Sift Gluten-Free Bakery in Nokomis, Minneapolis

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

We love gluten, just to let you know where we stand. But we felt that if we turned this review over to the gluten-free beat, such as it is, that we’d be giving Sift (4557 Bloomington Ave S, Minneapolis) short shrift.

We will however give short shrift to the controversy, such as it is, surrounding the steady rise (get it?) of gluten free. Yes, celiac disease is real, and it is miserable. Yes, there are charlatans who will tell you that everything can be cured by eliminating gluten from your diet. Enough said about that.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

On to the baked treats that we picked up just as the sun was rising this past Saturday morning. Sift is a delightful and welcoming space, with a display case filled with an astonishing variety of muffins, bars, brownies, cookies, doughnuts, cakes, scones, and little tiny quiches. The beaming, smiling face that greeted us turned out to be that of Molly Miller, owner of Sift. She was visibly thrilled to be there and was more than happy to share with us her journey from longtime hobbyist baker to semi-pro farmers market vendor to professional baker with her own brand-new shop.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Her enthusiasm is well warranted. Our favorite item was the Ham and Cheese Quiche Bite ($2.50). The crust was chewy and buttery, and perhaps a little corny. The egg filling was creamy and shot through with pockets of melted cheese and bits of smoky ham. Our only gripe was the silver-dollar size. We could have eaten an entire full-sized quiche. On the other hand, if it were bigger, we’d have missed out on the lovely crust in each bite. I guess they know what they’re doing: These things are seriously craveable.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The Spiced Pear Coffee Cake ($3.50) was delightful. Airy, and rich with cinnamon and cardamom, it had a moist, fluffy crumb and a lovely aroma. For lack of wheat flour, it was missing nothing. We’ve had sweeter coffee cakes, but this one, with its spiced pear, had a sophisticated element that we’ll definitely return for.

Seven Sundays Blueberry Chia Buckwheat Muesli

Seven Sundays Blueberry Chia Buckwheat Muesli
John Garland / Heavy Table

I love gluten. It’s among my top ten favorite things about being alive, right in between sauvignon blanc and the music of John Coltrane. And when I see the phrase “gluten-free” my brain autocorrects to “incomplete flavor,” “weird texture alert!” or “we did the best we could, considering.”

That’s why I’m happy to report some good news for the celiacs out there: the newest muesli from Seven Sundays is gluten free and tastes just as wonderful as their previous blends.

It’s been two-and-a-half years since Heavy Table first chatted with Hannah Barnstable about her healthy granola alternative. Since then, she’s spread the gospel of muesli (the number one breakfast food outside the U.S.) from just a handful of local co-ops to a couple of thousand retail floors, including Targets nationwide.

The Blueberry Chia Buckwheat blend gets a touch of sweetness from coconut shavings and chunks of dried apple, along with the berries. Pumpkin seeds add an unexpected crunch. If your breakfast grain barometer is tuned to the sugary sweetness of many granolas, you may find muesli something of a pallid affair. Better to think of it as a base for fruits and yogurts, a hearty canvas for healthy experimentation.

February is a perfect incubator for muesli testing because the cereal is terrific served warm. Let it simmer for a couple minutes in a sauce pot with water to warm it like oatmeal. I like to add a few frozen blueberries, a spot of milk, and a light dusting of maple sugar right at the end.

Thanksgiving Hack: Gluten-free cornbread and sausage-chestnut dressing

Jane Rosemarin / Heavy Table
Jane Rosemarin / Heavy Table

Our family spends Thanksgiving with a friend who has celiac disease, so we have a mostly gluten-free dinner — I do make rolls and a pie crust with wheat flour, but also gluten-free versions for Jerry. A dish we all look forward to is the gluten-free dressing, which starts with a tasty cornbread. You could use your favorite cornbread recipe for the dressing if you don’t need to avoid gluten.

While these recipes are forgiving, and you can use the most readily available ingredients, several ingredients merit mention. Likewise, for the dressings, proportions are flexible: don’t discard a handful of excess diced celery; use it. The critical part is tasting for seasoning as you cook. And stuffing the dressing into the turkey turns it into … a stuffing, of course!

gorkha-palace-horiz-bannerThis Hack is underwritten by Gorkha Palace: Using fresh & organic ingredients, Gorkha Palace brings you an eclectic range of cuisines of Nepal, India and Tibet thus offering our patrons a unique culinary experience.

Fresh, wholegrain cornmeal is sweet and flavorful and makes a difference in these — and other — recipes. I used organic cornmeal from Whole Grain Milling in Welcome, Minn., available in bulk at Lakewinds, the Wedge, and other co-ops. I also love the organic cornmeal produced by Greg Reynolds at Riverbend Farm in Delano, Minn., but it’s unavailable this year. “We had a very cool wet spring and early summer,” Reynolds wrote in an email. “The corn got planted late, and we had a frost before it matured. Consequently, no corn crop.”

Apples Galore and Recipe Roundup

Tomato tarte tatin, heirloom tomato relish, squash blossom and quinoa stir fry, buffalo chicken pizza, apple and honey challah, gluten-free pear tart, apple-cinnamon waffles, raw caramel apple timbale, and apple-oat Bundt cake.

Egg Foo Young and Recipe Roundup

Garlic scape pesto ideas, rhubarb vodka smash, black bean burgers, gluten-free strawberry cornbread, mozzarella-basil frittata, and egg foo young.

Masu Turns One and April 16 Tweet Rodeo

The latest from Twitter: @sewardcoop is doing a free screening of the film “Dirty Work” this Thursday, @Masu_NE celebrates their one-year anniversary with menu specials this Wednesday, @Victory_44 is hiring hard-core cooks, and @wccoradio craves a gluten-free Girl Scout cookie.

Alma, Jenkins, and a Gluten-Free Controversy

A Q&A conducted by Pioneer Press food critic Kathie Jenkins with Alma chef Bryan Morcom unearthed a seemingly rich nugget of controversy. When asked about a trend he’d like to see die, Morcom said: “Gluten free is the one that kills me. I’m sympathetic to dietary restrictions, but everything in moderation.”

Morcom’s defense for his apparently callous attitude: He said it within the context of diners claiming to dine gluten-free and then choosing to eat a gluten-rich dessert or bread, according to a statement by Alma published on the site The Savvy Celiac. No reply yet from Jenkins via Twitter or the article itself. [Via David Brauer]

Homemade Tofu: Worth the Effort?

homemade three-color firm tofu
Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Neatly boxed, brick-shaped, and sometimes shelf-stable, grocery-store tofu is an orderly food. It’s versatile, lending itself to seemingly infinite dishes: sweet or savory; hot or chilled. And it’s cheap, as sources of protein go. Even organic tofu won’t set you back more than $2 a box. Is there any advantage to making it from scratch? It requires only three ingredients — dried soybeans (available at food co-ops and natural foods stores), water, and a coagulant, such as apple cider vinegar — and it’s not difficult. Similar to cheese, tofu is simply curdled soy milk, strained of its whey, then weighted and pressed into a mold. The heavier the weight and the longer the pressing time, the firmer the tofu. Silken tofu (kinugoshi) — which is used in desserts and soups — is the cottage cheese of the soy bean world: It’s curds that have not been separated from their whey or weighted and molded.

The primary challenges of scratch-made firm tofu are three-fold: planning ahead enough to remember to soak the soybeans overnight; acquiring or creating a mold; and deciding what to do with the by-products of making soy milk — soy pulp (okara) and soy whey. I found that making soy milk yields a disproportionately large quantity of creamy, white pulp that has the appealing appearance and texture of mashed potatoes. You end up with more okara than you do tofu. Although I found and tested many recipes calling for okara, I didn’t find many that excited me enough to recommend them (I include a recipe for Okara Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies at the end of this story). The authors of The Book of Tofu, which is an excellent, albeit somewhat dated, resource if you are serious about making your own tofu, suggest that okara “be used in waffles, cornmeal muffins, spoonbread, and all yeasted breads. Use 2 parts flour to 1 part packed okara.” They suggest you add the whey to soups. Frankly, though I find it difficult to overcome the guilt of throwing out the okara and whey, I have come to view these items as waste products, not byproducts.

sliced cherry tomatoes and perilla over fresh tofu
Lori Writer / Heavy Table

In the end, I found that my homemade firm tofu didn’t taste substantially better than the store-bought variety, though it certainly contained fewer preservatives. It was also more perishable and fragile. I didn’t appreciate the expense of buying a tofu press or even minor hassle of making one and decided I preferred to use a cheese-cloth lined stainless steel colander as my mold, and a saucer weighted with a jar of peanut butter topped with a heavy book as my weight. Sure, the tofu came out a little funny-looking, but that’s part of its charm. I also found my homemade tofu was more sponge-like than store-bought, and, therefore, more readily absorbed flavors and sauces: perfect in David Chang’s Cherry Tomato and Tofu Salad (recipe below).

I also experimented with a couple of coagulants and actually preferred using apple cider vinegar versus the liquid nigari that I purchased from United Noodles in Minneapolis. The apple cider vinegar lends a slight tang to the final product. You can also use lime or lemon juice.

The Great MN (Gluten-Free?) Get-Together and August 19 Tweet Rodeo

@CakeEaterBakery plans to start opening on Sunday mornings, @Untiedts predicts an early first frost on @FreshLocalShow, @LuluGrimm links to @MinnPost’s @MinnStateFair gluten-free guide, @FATLORENZOSMPLS seeks part-time servers and cooks, and @RogueChocolate works on a new pineapple-scented origin.

May 24 Tweet Rodeo

@BlackCatNatFood warns against “line cook” as a career goal, @HeidisMpls is unimpressed by the stadium dugout dog, @FourFirkins carries gluten-free pear cider, and @CooksCrocusHill invites one and all to their upcoming shrimp boil.

Sweet Cheeks’ Savory Simmers and Sweet Cereal

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table
Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

St. Paul-based nanny and entrepreneur Lori Karis made a splash in the local baby-food market last year with her Sweet Cheeks organic baby food, but now she has her sights set on a slightly more sophisticated palate. Earlier this year she introduced Savory Simmers soups and Sweet Cereal — heat-and-serve soups and oatmeal that is geared toward adults but is baby-friendly enough for parents to share with their little ones. Like the baby food, the adult-oriented foods are made with vegan, organic, and (mostly) locally sourced ingredients, and the soups are also gluten-free.

Two tasters recently put the three Savory Simmers varieties — Fresh Pea with Quinoa, Cauliflower White Bean, and Butternut “Bisque” — and one Sweet Cereal to the test, sampling each product hot from the microwave. (All four are sold frozen and can also be reheated on the stovetop.) Though none of the products ($4 each) won over-the-top raves, each one had its definite merits. The rundown:

Fresh Pea with Quinoa
200 calories / 12 oz. serving
Ingredients: organic peas, filtered water, low-sodium organic vegetable broth, organic potatoes, organic onions, organic thyme, sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil

Though neither taster is a pea-soup aficionado, it was easy to appreciate the sweetness of the first Savory Simmer, perhaps due to the fact that the soup contains fresh rather than split peas. The quinoa was almost imperceptible in taste, but the chenopod added heft to the soup. While Taster A enjoyed the soup’s chunky texture, Taster B would have preferred the peas to be pureed.

Cauliflower White Bean
220 calories / 12 oz. serving
Ingredients: organic cauliflower, organic potatoes, organic white beans, organic onions, filtered water, organic tahini, organic fennel, organic cumin, sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil

Karis makes her own tahini for the Cauliflower White Bean soup, and the presence of the sesame paste is apparent as you bring the spoon to your mouth. The sesame aroma certainly lingers as you sip the soup — whether that’s good or bad depends on your affection for tahini. The punch of the cumin also comes through quite strongly, so if you’re not a fan of Middle Eastern flavors, this soup isn’t for you. But it was Taster B’s favorite of the three, while Taster A would have preferred to taste more of the vegetables rather than the added flavorings.

Butternut “Bisque”
130 calories / 12 oz. serving
Ingredients: organic butternut squash, filtered water, low-sodium organic vegetable broth, organic potatoes, organic carrots, organic onions, organic celery, organic garlic, organic ginger, extra-virgin olive oil, smoked paprika, sea salt

The bisque is in quotation marks because this vegan soup lacks the cream base of traditional bisques, as well as the non-dairy creaminess that is inherent in many butternut squash soups. In fact, a more accurate name for this soup would be “plain ol’ vegetable” because the butternut flavor isn’t strong enough to distinguish itself from the other vegetables. But don’t let that stop you from trying it — when viewed as a vegetable soup, the Butternut “Bisque” is a pleasant potion with just the right hint of ginger. The smoked paprika was a bit much for Taster B, who said the smokiness was reminiscent of smoked fish, but this was the preferred soup of Taster A.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table
Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Steel Cut Oats and Apples
190 calories / 8 oz. serving
Ingredients: organic steel-cut oats, filtered water, organic apples, organic cinnamon, sea salt

While most instant oatmeal packets weigh in around 1.5 ounces, Karis’ Steel Cut Oats and Apples comes in 8-oz. containers, making it a very hearty breakfast. With properly cooked oats and a strong, sweet apple flavor, the breakfast dish only needs a little more cinnamon to be a true winner. Taster B also recommended brown sugar, though Taster A thought an adequate amount of cinnamon would suffice. (A maple and brown sugar variety would be a welcome addition to the Sweet Cereals line.)

One has to applaud Karis for making the kind of baby food that parents would like to cook for their own kids if they had the time or wherewithal, and her dedicated local following demonstrates the market for such a product. When it comes to adult food, however, it’s not a clear call — while the soups and cereal are infinitely better than what you’d pour out of a can or stir up from a packet of dry ingredients, none bowled over the tasters. Home cooks could likely make similar foods that they can easily adjust to their own flavor preferences; for folks on the run or without the time or skill, the Sweets Cheeks products are a healthy, nutritious, made-with-love option that trumps Campbell’s or Quaker any day.

All Sweet Cheeks foods can be ordered online or purchased at several local co-ops. Check the Sweet Cheeks website for the most up-to-date list of products and retailers.

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day vs. Lahey’s My Bread

Lori Writer / Heavy Table
Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Once known as the Flour Milling Capital of the World, Minneapolis-St. Paul has no shortage of great bakeries, from Rustica in Minneapolis with its light and airy baguettes; to Don Panchos Mexican Bakery on St. Paul’s West Side where carb-lovers can load up baskets of goodies priced by the item; to humble Trung Nam Bakery in St. Paul, where Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year as customers make the last-minute dash to fill their breadbaskets for the harvest feast.

Yet, sometimes, nothing but homemade will do. And if you want to fill your kitchen with the yeasty scent of rising dough, 2009 is your year. On Amazon, a search for “artisan bread” yields six hits on the first page alone, with titles by Peter Reinhart, whose The Bread Baker’s Apprentice was named cookbook of the year by the James Beard Foundation in 2002 and Nancy Baggett, whose Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads is intriguing simply based on the author’s surname.

Two new books teeter atop my reading pile: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients[324 pages, hardcover, Thomas Dunne Books], by local authors Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François and My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method [222 pages, hardcover, W.W. Norton & Company], by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste. Both books promise that delicious, airy, crusty bread is yours for the making, with a minimum of effort and equipment (though, some essential equipment is required). Although only Lahey calls his bread “no-knead,” neither technique calls for kneading.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table
Lori Writer / Heavy Table (background: a loaf baked from "My Bread"; foreground: a loaf baked from "Healthy Bread")

Hertzberg and François published their first book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, in 2007, just months after New York Times columnist Mark Bittman sparked a floury explosion of home baking with his article “The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work,” featuring Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread technique and recipe.

In their follow-up book, Healthy Bread, Hertzberg and François write that the secret to having fresh, home-baked bread is to “Mix enough dough for many loaves and store it in the refrigerator. It’s easy to have freshly baked whole grain and other healthy breads whenever you want them, with only five minutes a day of active effort. First, mix the ingredients into a container all at once, and let them sit for two hours. Now you are ready to shape and bake the bread, or you can refrigerate the dough and use it over the next five to fourteen days.”

While Artisan Bread “concentrated on ingredients from the traditional European baker’s cupboard,” Healthy Bread expands the discussion “to include whole grains, vital wheat gluten, and even ingredients for gluten-free breads.” Hertzberg and François’ recipe for high-moisture dough yields a loaf with with a chewy crust and a “custard crumb” interior that is shiny, chewy and moist. The minimum equipment required is a serrated bread knife, a cooling rack, pastry brush, a lidded plastic or glass storage container, a broiler pan, a pizza peel, and a baking stone.

In Healthy Bread, and in Artisan Bread before it, Hertzberg and François’ technique relies on baking with steam to achieve a crispy crust, although they offer other alternatives, including misting the bread with water early in baking and baking inside a cloche or covered cast-iron pot.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table
Lori Writer / Heavy Table (a loaf baked from the "Healthy Bread" Master Recipe)

According to Lahey, the secret to producing great bread without a huge time sacrifice is low-rise fermentation. Writes Lahey about his technique: “Applied in the modern home kitchen, it requires about 5 minutes of actual labor, followed by 12 to 18 hours in which the bread rises, developing structure and flavor on autopilot, and then another short rising time, and, finally, the brief baking in a covered pot. It’s a terrific loaf of bread, easily within reach of any home cook.” The resultant loaf is “chestnut-colored, chewy, [and] satisfying.”