Chocolate, Maple, Sweet Almond And You


Things about February: Celebrations of Saint Valentine and Love, Black History, Presidents Day, Cherry, Strawberry, Sweet Potato, the birth of James Joyce, Babe Ruth, Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, James Lowell, Winslow Homer, Victor Hugo, H W Longfellow are all part of this chilly little month, and then to top it off, February First is Baked Alaska Day. The Arts, Music, Food and Love, what can be better? Every month is a good month for food, but Love is the sole child of February. Let’s add maple syrup, pork loin and petite desserts to this Art filled month of challenge and change.
When our descriptions of favorite flavors and recipes goes beyond the senses of sight, smell, taste and feel there is only one thing left, and that thing is sound, the first Muse, Aiode: song and music. Why isn’t there a Muse of Food? Food is a long poem, a song of necessity and of romance. I’ve always seen my muse of food to be beloved friends.
A meal can be a symphony, an elaborate chocolate dessert is rhapsodic, when our table is beautiful it sets the tone. The Arts are present all around us. The Arts are what drives our minds to develop and grasp concepts and histories, the dasein of an age is seen in popular music, sculpture, philosophy, literature and paintings. This being there (dasein) is what states “I was and am here” and this is what makes things like Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Modern ages present to our understanding. A meal for one’s beloved must be a symphony of sight and flavors. This meal states that you are there for her.
Our recipes are pork with guajilla peppers, almonds, red wine vinegar and maple-tamarind glaze; and for dessert we have Date, fig and banana crepes with pomegranate molasses and honey. Make these two dishes as small bites so that you can have a fuller Valentine’s Night or soiree. There is a little bit of chocolate in each dish. Making several small tapas/bites/appetizers that can be prepared ahead and set out as part of a long night o f romance, conversation and pleasurable company gives you more time to simply be present to your companion(s).
Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives/olive oil, honey, lentils, & almonds are the nine major food characters highlighted in the Bible. Sadly our modern grain modifications have made wheat and barley almost inedible by a significant portion of the worlds population (gluten intolerance). Happily, I am using almonds, figs, pomegranate, olive oil and honey in today’s recipes.
Maple syrup is a perfect sweetener, others are honey, blackstrap molasses, date molasses, grape molasses, extracts from the stevia plant and agave syrup. Maple syrup is graded from the best, AA through B. AA is pure, mild, light amber, it gets darker the lesser the grade which is why most of what you see in the store is dark amber Grade B. A fine point about maple syrup is that it does not freeze, so if you want to keep it indefinitely then after opening store it in the freezer. Maple syrup lasts two years unopened on the shelf, one year opened in the refrigerator and forever in the freezer. How’s that for a fantastic natural sweet flavor? Maple acts as a complement not as a puddle of syrup for our pork. All too often an inexperienced cook will overuse maple syrup (four times sweeter than sugar) on salmon and wild game dishes and then it literally leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
If you do not have maple syrup and want to make your own pancake syrup then follow this recipe for one cup of syrup:

½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla or maple extract

Caramelize the white sugar. Color will be tan. Heat the brown sugar water to a boil, do not stir. Add the caramelized sugar to the brown sugar water and stir/whisk until it thickens. Turn off the heat and stir in the extracts and butter.
The preferred way to cook this dish is in an iron skillet and to build the sauce with the pork as it cooks. Do not cook the pork over medium, after that it becomes dry, leathery, tasteless and inedible. Guajilla pepper is a mild, slightly fruity New Mexico pepper. We are using the dried version. Find them in any Mercado, Mexican and South Western section of the grocery store. Tamarind extract can also be found in any Mercado, Asian and Indian grocer. Tamarind is the central ingredient to all Worcestershire sauce and is widely used throughout one fourth of the worlds cuisines.
4, 2 ounce filets pork
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons potato starch, or cornstarch
2 tablespoons rice flour or wheat flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
10 slices white onion, thin
12 almond halves
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon tamarind
1 teaspoon Grade A or B maple syrup
Salt and pepper the 4 filets, these are also called tournedos in classic cuisine signifying thin center cuts from the tenderloin. Heat the oil and butter on medium high till it bubbles. Dust the pork in the starch/flours. Add the meat and cook one minute, turn and add the almonds, peppers and onions. Cook one minute. Turn and add the vinegar, tamarind and maple in that order. Cook one minute and then remove pork from the skillet. Swirl the sauce so that it combines and then pour over the meat.
Spinach and rose petal salad is a perfect complement to this classic dish.
Date, fig and banana crepes with pomegranate molasses and honey. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Even better is that our crepe recipe is gluten free. Learning to use alternate flours where once wheat/barley/malt were the primary sources not only lessens our use of intensely genetic modified foods it opens us up to a new set of flavors. Like any cook I love the taste of wheat and how easily it adapts to any form of cooking. But it does not mean everything must be wheat, it’s like the bacon thing, sure it’s good but this is not sufficient reason for them to be present in every meal.
The almond bark used in the recipe is also good for making coatings for cookies and fruits. You can find this in the bakery section of the grocery store right next to the white chocolate and chocolate bark.
Except for the banana use dried fruit for this recipe. If you have fresh cherries then by all means add them to the mix. This recipe will make 14 crepes. Freeze what you do not use. Place plastic wrap between each crepe to keep them from sticking together.
First, our gluten free flour base. The recipe is enough for four batches of crepes. This is also a base for cookies. I have found this combination to be the most versatile. To increase the wheat flavor add a tablespoon each of amaranth and sorghum flour.
2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch (must be starch not flour)
1/3 cup tapioca starch
Combine and store in air tight plastic or ceramic containers.
½ cup flour mix
1 tablespoon sugar or 2 teaspoons Splenda
¼ teaspoon fine salt
½ cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Set aside:
2 tablespoons butter, melted for brushing on pan
Combine to smooth mixture in blender.
On medium, heat a 7 inch crepe pan or skillet. Brush with butter.
Pour 3 tablespoons batter into pan. Swirl so that the batter evenly coats the pan.
Do this until you have used all the batter. Put plastic wrap between each crepe as you stack them.
5 Dates, thin sliced
8 Figs, thin sliced
2 Bananas, chopped
2 tablespoons pistachios, crushed
2 tablespoons almond bark chocolate, grated
The syrup will be dark, sweet and sour. Pomegranate molasses is very thick and slightly bitter, hence the addition of honey.
5 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
5 tablespoons local honey
Stir together till smooth and fully blended.

Roll 1 1/2 tablespoons of the fruit mix in each crepe. Set on plates. Drizzle small amount of syrup over the crepes. Dust with powdered sugar.
Happy Valentine’s Day, share your love with all your heart.

Doors open to the world,
To the heart and soul.
Open to all,
With no flag
And no demand,
Food for us all,
A world alive,
Rich and never filling,
And as I set the flowers
You stood next to me.
By the table we kissed.
Scent of dawn and guava,
Ripening and rich,
There’s not much more
I could ask,
Just to stand here,
To be here
Next to you,
With you.
Too sweet?
I don’t care,
By the kitchen we kissed.
I held your hand
And knew that by loving
You I was drawn closer
To the perpetual banquet.




There’s a change in the weather and there’s a change in the way we eat today. Our column this month casts a sieve and a whisk into the world of gluten free dining. Celiac intolerance is an inability to digest wheat, barley or malt in any form. Our recipes today are small, intense portions. We will be making a sweet and tart mixed fruit “soda”, buttermilk biscuits and chocolate-almond cookies. This way we have delicious alcohol free and wheat free additions. It is the holiday season. You do want everyone to enjoy the feasts, including the delightful bites of sweet treats and beverages.
First, a few paragraphs on what is gluten and gluten intolerance. It is not an allergy, it is an intolerance. What is gluten? Think of gluten like this: GLUE-Ten, glue. Makes “sticks to your ribs” a truth rather than just a folk saying. Why one cannot eat wheat, barley or malt, i.e. celiac, or it is a choice is not the concern of the cook, the concern is that we meet expectations and rise to the occasion. The host(ess) is here to serve. Chefs of all degree have had to learn how to accommodate gluten intolerance. It is not an allergy. It is not a fad. It is not a super diet. It is not a choice. It is a reaction to the increased gluten, a protein, content of wheat, barley and malt since the mid 1960s. Some bodies just are not built to withstand the way that fats and other food particles simply cling to the intestines and are not digested.
The wheat of today is over 100% more gluten rich than the wheat of our grandparents. This is the result of genetically modified seeds (GMO) used to increase the weed and insect resistance, increase gluten protein and to be drought resistant. In many ways these are good things but on the other hand remember that you are what you eat eats. Extreme question: Are you really prepared to have a weed resistant body? Direct Question: Do you or do you know someone who is intolerant? Ask them about the symptoms and what their doctor had to say on the topic. Our bodies are not yet developed in ways to digest these certain things.
Many seeds have been FDA approved without proper long term testing. If we knew a significant number of our populace were gluten intolerant then these super seeds would not have been OK’d for use. A strong food regulation board would have thoroughly tested the results over time. One out of one hundred and thirty three people are gluten intolerant. It is not an allergy, it is intolerance to wheat, barley and malt in any degree. Even if something is fried in the same oil it can cause a severe reaction. Caveat Emptor! Wikipedia users as it does not always tell the full truth. Research Celiac and gluten free sites for exact discussions on what works.
I started working on gluten free recipes about six years ago when the situation began to regularly appear in my customer requests. I researched the topic. I wanted everyone to enjoy the “good stuff”, thus my foray into wheat free began. I was fortunate to cook with Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a Celiac Awareness demonstration at CNN (He is as nice a person as he appears on screen.).
The alternate flours used are easy to find. The measurements must be exact. We do not roll out the biscuit or cookie dough, the gluten free pastry doughs are lightly kneaded, cook times and temperatures are different, the dough is often wetter than is common to White Lily or King Arthur flours. I wish White Lily and King Arthur would enter the gluten free market. Once you learn how to cook without wheat you learn that it is more the flavor rather than gluten of wheat that is hard to replicate. Admit it, the flavor is nice. It took me a while to stick to the exact recipes for basic flour mixes but once I did the results were delicious.
Walmart has brown rice flour, rice flour and xanthan, Publix has xanthan, Fooks (Asian Markets)has rice, sweet rice, potato, sweet potato and tapioca starches and Taj Mahal (Indian markets) has sorghum and many others like amaranth, lentil, rice and millet flour. For gluten free baking you will need to make master flour mixes. Add the xanthan at the time of baking, not as part of the mix. Keep moisture free as these fine flours will go Elmer’s Glue on you in a quick minute. The different flavors and textures are amazing. For those who know me they’ll get a laugh to find that there are 16 different flours and starches on my shelves!
Research requires thorough testing for best results. Anyone can read false reports on Wiki, but trust a Chef for trial and error. Subscribe to Cook’s magazine for complete discussions on anything food related. As an aside, I like regular soft winter wheat White Lily flour and King Arthur/Lancelot because the gluten content of their various flours work perfectly for mainstream baking. They are easy to work with and have guaranteed results. The gluten and the quality of the flavor is precise. Getting the gluten free flours to reach this stage of perfection is the task for us all. If you follow the recipes you will have this guarantee.
Yes, experiments are not always a big hurrah. You will benefit from our mistakes and successes. Chefs are here to pave the way for cooks to follow, let the pioneers get the arrows…Ouch! My big flop was a batch of biscuits when I mistakenly added twice the amount of xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a powder made from a bush. It creates the elasticity same as gluten without gumming up your digestive tract. They were perfect outside and gummy inside. Lesson: Level off the measuring spoons and cups with a knife drawn across the top of the receptacle. When a cook speaks of the tip of the spoon it is both literal and metaphor. Xanthan, guar and modified tapioca starch are the natural wheat gluten replacements. If you are adverse to reading books, which seems a terrible malaise in itself, then here is a link to a valued and frequently fact checked site for Celiac Awareness: There are an amazing number of books on gluten free cooking. You have to read and find which ones speak directly to your own cooking skills and flavor preferences.
Now, about alcohol free drinks, it does not have to be super sugared sodas, fruit drinks or the sole domain of teas and coffees. We have learned that a little vinegar every day keeps you healthy in several ways, from respiratory to digestion it is a good thing. The Southern palate is drawn to sweet so my recipe here is sweeter than that in Japan or in Japanese sushi bars. I make a persimmon and apple cider vinegar with sugar for a tablespoon every day now. My deeply Southern Mother swears by a shot (1 ½ ounces) of apple cider vinegar every day for good health. She is healthy.
Making fruited vinegar drinks is millennia old for Japan and China. The sweet and sour in addition to the health benefits stand as reasons why it has been used for so long. After all, at the end of the season what do we do with the stone fruits and berries from the last harvest? We freeze, make pies or make drinks. My recipe here is comprised of three different fruits but you can use any single berry or stone fruit that you have in abundance. I make my own fig balsamic by adding dried figs to regular balsamic and letting it steep for a month. Food is this easy. For the best foods all you have to have is the information and the desire to make your own. If you are making it then you know for sure that it is pure and as local as possible. Remember that if you are cooking for someone who is gluten intolerant then your cooking area must be completely wheat free for the duration of the preparation. A mere puff of wheat dust can set off reactions from debilitating to extreme discomfort.
Also you will notice that corn starch is absent. Corn has seen dramatic changes in composition over the past 30 years and reactions are showing up more and more. Except for organic and small farms ALL corn, soy, peanuts in Georgia are GMO. Nationally, almost all wheat is GMO. If the pollen from GMO plants blow over into organic farms then the organic becomes infected with whatever is implanted into the genetic structure of the host plant. Round Up, the weed killer, is in ALL (Monsanto is “the” supplier) GMO wheat, peanut, barley, soy, corn and most other vegetable seeds. How did this happen? Shortcuts around long term testing is how it happened. India, Africa and Europe have shown that it is possible to farm without GMO seeds. GMO has to be marked as such in the grocery stores in Europe. There are restrictions on what produce can be imported from the US into Europe because of our forced use of GMO seeds. GMO seeds are infertile. Yes, every discussion of gluten and corn has a bit of preaching.

Note that I add sorghum, amaranth and millet flour depending on what I am baking. For example, I add 1/5th part sorghum to my cookies to increase the ability to balance the sugars. I add two tablespoons to amaranth to basic biscuit mix (2 cups flours) so that the wheat flavor is increased. Millet is used in savory pastry dough to help it stand up to salty and meat flavors. All of these flours are from wheat and peanut free processing plants.
You can use either Crisco (all Crisco is now nontrans fat) if they are vegan, or a balance of butter and cream cheese. Egg can be replaced by “Ener-G”; a mashed up half banana; ½ cup apple sauce; 1/4th cup whipped firm tofu; nutritional yeast and in some cases adding coconut powder with the banana, and apple or tofu increases the delicious factor.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two baking pans.
2 cups Brown rice flour, fine grind
2/3rd cup Potato starch (not flour)
1/3rd cup Tapioca starch
1 teaspoon Sweet rice flour

At time of baking add:
1/4th cup Amaranth flour (optional but tasty)
1 ½ teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Xanthan gum
1/4th teaspoon Ground cloves
1/4th teaspoon Allspice
½ teaspoon Fresh ground cardamom, preferably black pods
Add to dry mix.
½ cup Semi Sweet Chocolate chips
½ cup Almonds
Crush chocolate and nuts together to coarse texture and set aside.
2 large Eggs
1 teaspoon Dark vanilla extract
6 ounces Butter
2 ounces Cream cheese
1 cup granulated sugar or Splenda for baking
½ cup light brown sugar or Splenda Baking Brown Sugar

Whip fats and sugars together with electric whisk on medium until it is creamy. Add egg and vanilla, whip on medium until fluffy or 2 minutes.
Whip dry flour mix into the sugar. When it is combined add the chocolate and almond. It will be pretty thick so do not over mix. At this point mix so that it is pliable. Finish by squeezing the batter with your hands a couple of times.
Spoon dough onto pans and shape into small 1 ½ ounce rounds. Keep them 2 inches apart. Bake 10 minutes. Cool on cookie racks.
You can add coconut or any dried fruits instead of chocolate or almonds. The master batter is reliable. Almond flour is a leap forward but is expensive. If using almond flour then make it 1 cup almond flour and 1 cup brown rice flour.
If your guests are vegan then you can use Ener-G or nutritional yeast.

1 cup Brown rice flour, fine grind
2 cups Tapioca starch
½ cup Sorghum flour
At time of baking add:
2 teaspoons Baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons Baking soda
2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
2 teaspoons Xanthan gum
Thoroughly combine.
½ cup Butter, grated and frozen
2 cups Buttermilk, cold (can sub Almond, soy or rice milk)
1 tablespoon Apple cider vinegar, cold
1 large Egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients. By hand mix in the butter so that the batter resembles oatmeal in texture. Add buttermilk, vinegar and egg. Combine by hand or with sturdy spoon. It is a bit loose, right? That is the way it is supposed to look. Do not knead or roll out with rolling pin. You will spoon it onto the pan.
Lightly grease sheet pan. Cookie pan is too thin, use classic thicker style. Spoon the dough out into 16 t0 20 dough balls. If you want more circular form then wet your hands and gently shape them.
Bake 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.
(optional: 2 tablespoons Amaranth Flour for whole wheat flavor)

This is definitely at the top of the list of easy and delicious. The only difficulty is letting it sit, tightly covered and air free in a plastic container or mason jar for 4 days. Since it is a fruit and vinegar concoction if you taste it before the cooking with sugars then you will pucker up same as any taste of vinegar. The beauty of this drink is that it is pure health wrapped in low cost and sweet carbonated glory. It is Japanese in origin. You can use any kind of sweetener for this drink, from white sugar to palm and jaggery, and if you are cutting out sugars then use Splenda, Stevia or unfiltered brown/amber Agave syrup.
Macerate and cure for 4 days:
2 ½ cups peaches, peeled and sliced
2 ½ cups blackberries
2 ½ cups blueberries
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
Combine and cook:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup distilled water
Bring everything to a boil. Turn down to simmer and let it cook for 30 minutes. If it is too thick add a little more water and sugar. Frequently stir.
Strain, mash the fruit as much as you can so that it releases all the good flavor. After straining you can certainly add a little more vinegar and cook the fruits until they are broken down as far as they can go.
At service you will fill a pint glass with ice and add 3 tablespoons of the berry vinegar. Finish by filling the glass with sparkling (carbonated, soda) water.
As you have learned grocery stores are always overcharging for things that are “free”. By adding a few important flour mixes and fruit drinks to your home cooking time you find that making it yourself is both economical and better for you. Fresh is always best. Local and fresh makes it perfect. Peace.
Filling clay urns,
Lighting candles to the night,
Standing on the roadside,
Fast, rocky creek splashing
over moss and fern,
A wind stirs up cloudbanks
on the other side,
Year long drought
giving up the silence,
The rains come.
Gauguin bright leaves
Flurry, stir, rush up
and then down the hills,
Deep orange full moon shines
hard on the carnival of color and shadow,
Illuminated, we turn to face the summit,
The smell of turned earth, the desire
Inside the heart of every season
Reveals itself as a charm of the senses,
And all my senses now sing praise
Of the Holy and our Love.