Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday finds

In between getting ready for Crayons' flower-fairy birthday and getting the girls to their Saturday dance lessons, we managed to hit a church sale and a neighbour's yard sale this morning. Mr. Fixit found a "gossip bench" (otherwise known as a seat with attached telephone table, much like this one)--it's the right style for our entrance and living room, and we both liked it right away. We even have a good place for it, just inside the front door, where our front hall joins the living room with an open space. Our only problem is deciding which way to put it--facing into the living room, which kills it as a shoe-putting-on bench; or facing into the hall, which makes it more useful but makes it look pretty funny when you're sitting in the living room?

For now we've compromised by putting it sideways!

Mama Squirrel found books at both places--so did Mr. Fixit. A copy of Magic Elizabeth (a beloved Scholastic story that has become hard to find), Babar Comes to America, and hardcover copies of The Greek Way and The Roman Way. What Mama Squirrel enjoyed most was finding several Friendship Press books from the '50's and '60's--she rarely sees these, and these titles were ones that have eluded her at church sales for years. (That's the mostly likely place to find them, since they were common in church libraries and are often stored away in back rooms of churches, from long-ago mission band or C.G.I.T. (girls' club) days. Strangely enough, these were in a box at the neighbour's sale, and not at the church sale at all!

(Is Mama Squirrel an expert collector of these things? Does she go haunting sales for one particular book? Nope, it's strictly nostalgia for some fondly remembered books from a long-ago church library.)

If you're interested, some of today's finds were George and the Chinese Lady, by Myra Scovel; The Buffalo and the Bell, ditto; Hana's New Home (that's an E-bay link so it may not work long); and The Turquoise Horse.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gluten-Free Pantry French Bread and Pizza Mix (review)

OK, I made it to the health food store today and got a package of xanthan gum and some other things, so no more excuses. I also picked up a package of Gluten-Free Pantry's French Bread and Pizza Mix, since I wanted to make pizza and had heard good things about that brand.

Price: $4.99 for a mix that makes two 12-inch pizzas seems fairly reasonable, but is a bit misleading because what you're basically getting is the flour mixture and the yeast. You have to add eggs, vinegar, salt, sugar, water/milk and oil, plus your pizza sauce, cheese and toppings. And pay for oven heat if you're making pizza. Still...considering the price of gluten-free flours, it doesn't seem like such a bad deal.

Ease of use / clear directions: Although I didn't bake it as French bread, the bread machine instructions seemed pretty straightforward. The pizza instructions, on the other hand, are a bit vague, and have caused trouble for some people. However, ours turned out fine (see below).

Taste / texture: Excellent. It held together (which is more than I can say for some regular homemade pizzas I've made), was crispy but not rock-hard around the edges, solid on the bottom and bready inside, and tasted more-or-less like regular pizza crust; I'd give the overall texture and appearance 9 out of 10 and the mouth-feel about 8 1/2. Since I bought the mix and prepared it myself (and cleaned up the mixing bowls) and we did not utter the GF word during the meal, the pizza was deemed to be acceptable by the Squirrelings. (As I said, they probably thought it was better than some of Mama Squirrel's previous attempts at pizza.)

Okay, so how did I make it turn out well with the sketchy directions from the package? I put all the ingredients in the breadmaker and put it on "pizza dough" setting--20 minutes to mix, 30 minutes to rise. It needed a bit of help to get mixed properly, especially with the very little mixing blade in our machine--I can see where a mixer might do a better or at least quicker job on that. Or it might even work in the food processor--no guarantees that the batter wouldn't gum things up, but it could be worth a shot.

When the cycle was done, I scraped the whole thing out of the bread machine pan into a bowl, just to see what was up and if it needed any more mixing. Like most gluten-free bread "doughs," it was more of a sticky batter at that point than a stretchy dough. I non-stick-sprayed our two 12-inch metal pizza pans, and used a rubber spatula to push half the dough out on each pan. It still looked a bit rough at that point, and trying to get it to form a ridge around the edges was pretty useless. But this is where I lucked out: since I had a bit of time to spare, I covered each pizza with a piece of sprayed plastic wrap and let them sit on the table while I grated cheese, mixed up sauce and so on. And lo and behold...that dough began to rise a bit, and to cover more of the pans. And I figured out that I could use the spatula, right through the plastic, to keep pushing the dough a little more toward the edges and push it up into a ridge. The dough sat on the table for somewhere between twenty minutes to half an hour, and I think that extra time helped it turn out. I would do it in the same way again next time, let it rise for a short time in the bread pan or a bowl, and then the rest of the time right on the pizza pans.

I was going to par-bake the pizzas and then top and finish them, even though the package just said to bake the whole thing at 450 degrees for 15 minutes; but the oven was hot so I ended up just topping them and putting them in. The time and temperature seemed right; I switched the pans halfway because the top of our oven is always hotter than the bottom. I let them sit for a few minutes when they came out, and cut them with a pizza wheel.

Sorry I didn't take a picture! We still have some leftovers in the fridge, because Mr. Fixit also made a potful of his grandma's potato-sausage-bean soup, and that's a filler-upper.