birch & barley / churchkey

Let me tell you about my experiences at each of these sister DC establishments.

Brian took me to Birch & Barley a couple of weeks ago to celebrate my 30th birthday. It was, hands down, THE BEST restaurant experience I’ve had since going gluten free, and probably one of the top 3 ever. I will most definitely be spending the next weeks or months or however long it takes attempting to recreate their fig and prosciutto chickpea flatbread with Gorgonzola cheese and caramelized onions, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Ohhh, yes!

We ordered the grilled octopus appetizer, with pickled eggplant, fingerling potatoes, and red pearl onions. Not 10 minutes later, the manager was at our table with a complimentary charcuterie board, which was 100% gluten free, including the bread! This was in apology for the delay in getting our appetizer, but I hadn’t even noticed anything was amiss. I was just enjoying sipping my glass of Malbec and chatting with Brian about our days.

After the charcuterie, octopus, and a delectable little treat of deep fried chickpeas (also complementary), our meals arrived. I already told you about my heavenly flatbread. Brian had the honey glazed duck breast, which was not gluten free so I can’t say how it was first hand, but he looked to be in ecstasy. In fact, once our meals arrived, we both stopped talking for a good long while and simply relished our food.

The fig and prosciutto flatbread was just as awesome after a few minutes in the oven the next morning for breakfast. That’s right.

The service was impeccable – attentive without being snooty or hovering, and we didn’t feel uncomfortable or out of place the way we sometimes do at a fancy restaurant. Instead, we felt taken care of. Special.

The atmosphere was just right. Upscale but not stuffy, with a kind of modern rustic feel. I don’t usually notice things like lighting, but it was noticeably perfect here. There were gorgeous tiny globe candles hanging from the high ceiling at different heights, giving a kind of starry night feel. The room was dimly lit, but with strategically placed unobtrusive spot lights above the tables – no squinting necessary to read your menu.

No detail was overlooked at this joint.

So you can imagine that I was really looking forward to visiting Birch & Barley’s upstairs bar, ChurchKey, which I heard has a similar but slightly more casual menu, including house made GF tater tots. Yeah! So when Jess came to stay with us Thursday night before our NYC 30th Birthday Adventure, we took her there.

We got lucky and scored a table despite the crowds. The waiter brought menus, and after a few questions it became apparent that the only gluten free option on ChurchKey’s menu is the fig and prosciutto flatbread (in addition to the 5 or 6! gluten free beers on the beer list). No bother, that’s what we were planning to order anyhow (except we had to skip the tater tots). We scarfed it down and it tasted seriously good, as before.

The atmosphere was pretty different from downstairs. There were small tables, a community table, and lounge seating. There was a bouncer. It was loud. And crowded. The three of us squeezed ourselves into a small 2 top squished between two other small 2 tops. But we were happy to have gotten a table at all so this was just fine. And really, as long as I could have that flatbread, everything would be OK.

Jess enjoyed it just as much as I did. Brian got something else but was eyeballing our flatbread longingly, so we let him have the couple of pieces that we were too stuffed to stuff in.

Fast forward about 3 hours, and my stomach started cramping. Badly. We went to bed, but I didn’t fall asleep. By midnight I was doubled over in pain that was coming in waves, and spent the rest of the night awake alternating between clutching my gut and finishing the last Hunger Games book on the floor of the bathroom. Jess slept through the night just fine, but in the morning, which finally did come, her belly started to revolt too.

My experiences at these two establishments, which share the same kitchen mind you, were at two extremes. I don’t have an explanation, except to assume they aren’t careful about cross contamination.

The first time I got lucky.

The second time we got glutened.

The next time I eat fig and prosciutto flatbread, it will be out of my own kitchen. No food, no matter how extraordinarily tasty, is worth feeling like that.

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roasted curry chickpeas

I could eat these every day. And since they are high in zinc, folate, protein, fiber, and phosphorous (according to Wikipedia), and super easy to make, I probably should! Except that they are garbanzo beans, and we all know what beans can do to one’s digestive system when eaten in excess.

The combination of spices I used on this particular batch of roasted chickpeas was inspired by a recipe from the Pillsbury Fast & Healthy Cookbook. I just love the flavor of that dish, and I just as much loved the flavor of these beans. We had friends over for dinner last night, and even their 16 month old son gave the beans two slimy goopy thumbs up (more like arm flaps, but I’m sure the gestures have similar meanings).

roasted curry chickpeas

1 15 ounce can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 F. Rinse, drain, and dry the chickpeas with a paper towel.

In a small bowl, mix together the curry powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger, and salt.

In a medium bowl, toss the chickpeas in the olive oil. Add the spices and toss until the chickpeas are coated.

Spread the chickpeas out on a baking sheet (optionally line the baking sheet with foil or parchment paper).

Roast at 400 for about 40 minutes, until the chickpeas are the desired crunchiness.  Give the baking sheet a shuffle/stir every 10 or 15 minutes to make sure they are roasting evenly. I like to use a baking sheet with a lip so I can give it a shake without fear of losing a chickpea or two into the abyss of my oven.

Thank you to Gluten Free Girl for her recent post about roasted chickpeas and reminding me that I should make this simple, delicious snack.

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gluten free strawberry ricotta pancakes

I have no idea why I haven’t tried making gluten free pancakes before. Breakfast has always been my favorite meal, with french toast and pancakes topping the list. But I haven’t attempted either since I have gone gluten free. Maybe it was fear that I would not be able to create a satisfactory substitute for the “real thing”. And I wasn’t ready to accept a life without pancakes and french toast.

But when I saw this Whole Foods recipe for strawberry ricotta pancakes the other day, and with Brian having just come home from the strawberry farm with a load of berries, a tub of ricotta in our fridge (not something we normally have on hand), and my sister-in-law coming over for Saturday brunch, it seemed like a sign. A sign that I was supposed to give pancakes a try. Boy am I glad I did! These pancakes were just the right combination of heartiness from the whole grain flours, lightness from the ricotta cheese, and sweetness from the strawberries. They didn’t even really need maple syrup, although I won’t judge you if you add some. I don’t know what I was so afraid of.

strawberry ricotta pancakes
adapted from this Whole Foods recipe

75 grams whole grain gluten free flour mix
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups diced strawberries
Butter or oil for the griddle

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the cheese, eggs, milk, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Add the strawberries and give another stir. 

Heat the oil or butter in a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Pour a ladle-full of pancake batter onto the hot skillet. Once it starts to bubble and the bottom side starts to brown, flip the pancake and cook until brown on the other side. If after the first pancake or two you think the batter is too runny, add some more flour; if it’s too thick, add some more milk. Then continue cooking the pancakes in batches until the batter is gone.

Serve with berries and/or maple syrup.
Makes about 12 pancakes.

One of the most useful gifts we got for our wedding was this mixing bowl with a handle and a spout. Instead of using a ladle to scoop out the batter (which will inevitably leave drips and drops of pancake batter on the griddle, stove, and counter top), you can just pour directly from the bowl onto the griddle. No mess, no dirty ladles. This bowl is also crucial for pouring muffin batter into muffin tins.

On Saturday afternoon, having a bunch of strawberries left over from the pancakes and a party to go to with nothing to bring, I also made these strawberry muffins.

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strawberry breakfast millet

I have a feeling we will be eating a lot of strawberries over the next few days. Our good friend Matt’s family owns a strawberry farm in Skippers, Virginia. Last year during strawberry season, Brian and I went there for a weekend to work on the farm. Matt and Brian picked strawberries and our friend Linnzi and I worked the cash register and played with Matt’s 2 year old niece.

We stayed in the beautiful farm house that has been passed down for several generations in Matt’s family. We woke early and had cereal with strawberries before getting to work. We had strawberry shortcake after lunch, and homemade strawberry ice cream before bed that we churned by hand that afternoon. We sat on the porch with a cup of coffee enjoying the cool breeze before the hard work of the day started, and we ended the day with a hot cup of decaf on that same porch. We didn’t want to leave.

Skippers Berry Patch is a beautiful, family run farm. The locals are greeted with smiles and a hug before they are given their basket and sent into the patch. And newcomers are greeted warmly by Matt’s parents, given a little bit of history about the farm, and made to feel like close friends before heading off with their fresh-picked strawberries. If you’re driving through Skippers on I-95 during strawberry season, I highly recommend a quick stop. You won’t regret it!

Brian is at the farm with Matt and Linnzi this weekend. I sadly couldn’t go because of my final exams. But he will come home this afternoon with a load of gorgeous strawberries. In preparation, I am trying to rid our fridge of the regular old store bought strawberries so we can enjoy the fresh berries from Skippers which are infinitely better in taste, color, and juice factor. They are soft and sweet and perfect. They are bright red all the way through to the center. They are, hands down, the best strawberries I’ve ever had.

Strawberry millet

4 cups milk
1 cup millet
1 cup strawberries
Brown sugar to taste

In a large sauce pan, bring the milk to a boil. Stir in the millet and reduce the heat. Simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with fresh strawberries and brown sugar.

Makes about 4 servings.

Millet makes a wonderful hot cereal for those of us who miss cream of wheat. Even Brian loves this, preferring it to cream of wheat. And he is hard to please. Plus, according to Wikipedia, millet is rich in protein, B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. So you have no excuse not to give it a try.

(pictures from the farm courtesy of Linnzi)

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cheez crackers for Easter

I have a genetic disorder that causes me to have an obsessive love for Cheez-its. It came from my dad’s side of the family – he will eat a whole box in one sitting when my mom isn’t around to stop him. She doesn’t usually let him buy Cheez-its, but when Brian and I are coming to visit, he uses us as an excuse. Cheez-its are a “special occasion” kind of food in our family. But that excuse doesn’t hold as much clout now that I can’t eat them, and Brian likes them, but doesn’t particularly love them the way my dad and I do. So now my dad can’t even pretend that we are the reason Cheez-its got added to the grocery list.

Brian and I are going home for Easter. You might think I should have attempted something like hot cross buns, but remember, Easter is a special occasion, and special occasions call for Cheez-its.

So this morning, while I should have been studying for finals, I was making cheez crackers.

Dad, these are for you. xoxo

cheez crackers
recipe from GF in the city

1/2 cup millet flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour/starch
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded*
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), cold and cubed
3 tablespoons cold water

* I recommend shredding your own block of cheese, rather than using the packaged pre-shredded stuff.

Put the flours, gum, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. 

Add the cheese and butter and pulse until it looks like a coarse meal.

Add the cold water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the dough forms into a ball. Be careful not to add too much water. 

Take the dough out of the food processor, split in two, and form the two halves into discs. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for about a half an hour. 

Preheat the oven to 350, unwrap the dough, and put it on a piece of parchment paper. Roll it out until it is pretty thin, about 1/8 inch. I found it was easier to roll the dough with a piece of plastic wrap on top to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin.

Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into small squares (or if you have a cute tiny goldfish cookie cutter that would work too). Cut the jagged edges off, ball them up, and reroll until you have used all the dough. You might have to refrigerate the scraps to chill them before continuing to work with them.

If you are feeling crafty, you can use the tines of a fork to make indentations on the edges and a hole in the middle to make them look like the Cheez-its we know and love. I did this for one cookie sheet full, but didn’t have the patience to do them all. 

Put the pieces on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350, until the edges are browned. Watch them carefully after 10 minutes, the browning happens quickly. If you want them extra crunchy, cook a little longer until the whole thing is browned. 

Brag to your friends about your homemade cheez crackers.


Posted in Baked goods, Snacks | Tagged , | 2 Comments

gluten free cocoa muffins

Today, I have been (gluten) free for 6 months. And what a gift these last 6 months have been! I feel better than ever and have been slowing down enough to appreciate the little things. The first few warm days of Spring, dinner with friends, quiet weekend mornings with Brian, and the tulips that are blooming all over DC. I don’t miss gluten one bit.

I’m on a muffin kick.

I made these particular muffins on Sunday morning, which was a refreshingly gorgeous morning. I had the windows open with a cool breeze washing over me. A perfect compliment to the hot coffee in my hands and the warm rays of sun dancing happily around the living room. A perfect setting for baking.

This particular recipe was inspired by Lauren of Celiac Teen‘s cocoa quickbread recipe, which she created for the Gluten Free Ratio Rally. It is cocoa bread that is not too sweet, maybe even a little savory. Reading about it got me excited. I had all of the necessary ingredients in my cabinets (except a loaf pan, hence the muffins), so off to the kitchen I went, skipping merrily.

What is the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, you ask? It is a group of food bloggers and cookbook authors who have joined forces to promote baking by ratios. I am not affiliated with the rally, but I am having fun following along and getting inspired. I have written a little bit about this previously, but the concept is this: given a ratio of ingredients, you can manipulate and substitute to your heart’s content, as long as the ratio remains the same (by weight, not volume. So break out that scale!). My recipe is actually quite different from Lauren’s, but the flour : liquid : fat : eggs ratio is the same. The muffins came out beautifully, so I can only conclude that the ratio concept is legit.

That being said, I’m not going to be surprised if baking by ratio/weight does not sound appealing to you. There is comfort in familiarity, and volumetric measurements are certainly familiar. Plus, I admit you might have to break out your calculator in order to bake by weight. I did use my calculator for this recipe, but I let out a small shriek of excitement at that. I am a math girl. I like numbers. You might not.

Both baking methods lend themselves to creativity, but in different ways. Baking by volume requires confidence. You have to know how to accurately measure that cup so that it isn’t too packed but it’s not filled with air either. You have to know what the batter or dough should look and feel like. This as a form of art. You can start with a vague concept of flavors and textures and create a recipe. On the other hand, baking by weight is precise and fool proof. All you need to do is follow linear instructions; the creativity comes in substituting ingredients and adding flavors. Instead of starting with a concept, you start with a recipe. But you can turn it into your very own by playing with the ingredients and flavors until you find something that is “you”. Maybe someday I will develop enough confidence to do away with the scale, but for now, this works for me.

cocoa muffins
inspired by Lauren of Celiac Teen

183 grams GF flour*
43 grams cocoa
113 grams sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt**
227 grams low fat buttermilk
113 grams grapeseed oil
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
65 grams chocolate chips (or to taste)

*  Use any combination you like. I used teff, millet, brown rice, white rice, sweet white rice, tapioca, corn, mesquite powder, and potato starch

** I used sea salt, and they came out a bit on the salty side, which might be good or bad depending on your taste.  If you don’t like your baked goods too salty, tone this down a little.

Preheat oven to 350 and grease (or spray) muffin (or loaf) pan.

Combine the dry ingredients (flours, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, and salt) in a large bowl and whisk until uniform in color.

In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients (buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla) and whisk until combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Add chocolate chips and give another quick stir.

Fill muffin tins (or loaf pan) about 3/4 full. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes (longer if you are making a loaf), until a knife comes out clean and the tops look a bit crusy.

Makes about 12 muffins.

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portobello pizzas

While I was wrapping up my day at work, I started thinking about what the fuck I should make for dinner, and then I remembered this website someone told me about once called What the Fuck Should I Make For Dinner? So naturally, I visited the site. I didn’t really expect to find something to make for dinner, but after clicking “I don’t fucking like that” a couple of times, the site told me to “feed my mouthface with some fucking portobello pizzas”. Frankly, I was a little intimidated by that, and so I complied.

I really really really REALLY love pizza. Always have. As a kid, every Friday night we had dinner out as a family at Pizza Hut, where my brother and I would have pepperoni pizza and an extra large Mountain Dew each (this makes me cringe now). As I got older, my taste in pizza matured, but the basic pie remained the same, and my love for the stuff only intensified. Pizza with sausage and ricotta cheese, pizza with pesto and pine nuts, pizza with olives and feta. So many wonderful flavor combinations. But the best part was always the bready crust. That warm, soft, yeasty, chewy, doughy, crust. So you can imagine that I was a little skeptical of the portobello thing. But I also love all things mushroom, so I thought it would be worth a try.

And it was a success. Even Brian thought they were delicious – he devoured three of them!

Portobello pizzas

4 portobello mushroom caps
2 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
Handful baby spinach
Handful pepperoni
Other toppings
Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Wash mushroom caps and, optionally, scrape out the gills with a spoon.

Heat the oil in a skillet until hot, put mushroom caps in cap side down. Let them sit on medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

Put the mushroom caps on a baking sheet. Top with sauce, spinach, pepperoni, and cheese. Or whatever toppings you want – roasted garlic, black olives, red peppers, sun dried tomatoes. Use your imagination.

Slide them in the oven and bake for 5 minutes or so until cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Eat. Enjoy.

Next time I think I’ll skip the oil in the skillet step. I’m not convinced that step adds anything except oil. You could just broil or bake them, add the toppings, and continue broiling or baking until the cheese is melted. Broiling will go faster but I think either would work just fine.

These yum little pizzas are a healthy and simple alternative to the real deal.

And since they are kid-sized, I could imagine this being a fun family activity. Put out a bunch of different toppings and let the kiddos choose and build their own. Fun for all!

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