Baking: successes and failures

I have been doing a lot of baking lately– some of which has turned out very nicely, while other things have been massive failures.

Last weekend I had some friends from grad school (all also Nutritionists) over for a Christmas potluck.  I made my non-dairy nacho recipe (which I call “Not-Chos”)– picture and recipe at the end of the post.    I also made cupcakes from my absolute favorite cake mix– Namaste Foods Gluten Free Cake Mix– over the years we’ve tried just about every mix on the market and this is by far my favorite.   Mixes, of course, are the easiest way to assure gluten free baking turn out well, but where’s the challenge in that?

The difference was subtle, but definite-- the cookies on the left are following the recipe properly. Those on the right (with brown sugar) puffed up more and are shown on the right.

Next I tried making this recipe for gluten-free snickerdoodles.  I realized I was out of cream of tartar and did not have enough regular sugar, but it was 5pm and I didn’t feel like going to the store at rush-hour, so I used brown sugar and extra baking powder.    The cookies came out bland and doughy.   I complained on facebook about it and my friend E (who is such an expert baker that she really ought to open a bakery) informed me that cream of tartar is a key ingredient in snickerdoodles.  I had no idea!  So off to the store I went and at 9pm I made a new batch exactly as written (though I did use organic, less refined sugar) and the difference was striking! Much more depth of flavor and a lighter, chewier texture.

I took most of the good ones to work, and sent the failed batch to work with Mr. Brie (both versions received rave reviews).  I especially wanted to bring something yummy and gf to work since one of my co-workers is a newly diagnosed Celiac and there has been a ton of  treats at work all gluten-filled.

This week I made this recipe for chocolate chip cookies, which is my favorite recipe to date– however the last couple of times I have made these I used a 350 degree oven but the recipe calls for 375– I used the written temp this time and I ended up over cooking them– this may be due to my new oven running hotter than the old one.   I also tried to make gluten-free Madelines but the failure was laughable!  They turned out puffy like odd pancakes.   I’ve been meaning to try the recipe on gluten-free girl but don’t have all the ingredients– I have no doubt her recipe would turn out properly.

I have been feeling like I’ve been getting FAR too much sugar in my diet lately and attempted this recipe for sugar-free, grain free cupcakes yesterday.  I really really wanted to like them– they actually didn’t taste bad– a bit dry but unfortunately the bean/coconut flour combination sat in my stomach like a brick for HOURS afterward.  I would drink tea and water trying to get it to move down and I could feel the liquid move around the solid sitting there.   Because I’m apparently a glutton for punishment, I tried eating one this morning, thinking I just had too much yesterday (I had two) but no, now it is sitting there like I swallowed it whole.    The only good thing is I made only a half batch as cupcakes so when I threw the rest out it was much less of a waste than it otherwise would have been!

I’m trying to figure out what dessert to make for Christmas dinner– I may make the cake mix again, since I really like it and only usually have it a couple times a year.  I also have a recipe somewhere for a coconut milk/chocolate pie that I think is pretty good.


Usually we think of nachos as being high calorie with minimal nutritional value.  For the dairy-allergic person they are definitely off limits.  This version is high in fiber, healthy fats, protein and vitamins.  Choose blue corn chips when available as they have a lower glycemic index and less starch then their yellow friends.

Prep Time: approximately 50 minutes

Serves 4

1 large yam, peeled and cut into chunks

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

½ a large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoons chili powder

2-3 cups black beans, well drained

sea salt, to taste

2 cups baby spinach

1 cup salsa

1 cup guacamole (recipe below)

blue corn chips

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place chopped yam into a baking dish with about ¼ inch of water.  Cover and bake about 35 minutes or until very soft.  When they are finished, mash slightly with the back of a fork but maintain a chunky texture.
  2. Heat large skillet over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, onions and garlic.  Sauté until onions are soft and transparent—about 6 minutes.
  3. Add cumin, chili powder, black beans, and salt.  Sauté 1-2 minutes until beans are warm.  Use a fork to mash the beans until slightly mushy.
  4. Add the spinach to the pan and a second tablespoon of olive oil.  Continue sauté until spinach wilts.
  5. Spread the mashed yams at the bottom of a large serving dish.  Layer the bean-spinach mixture on top of the yams, followed by the salsa and guacamole.  Serve with blue corn chips.

Original Recipe by Brieats, Copyright 2010

Good Times Guacamole

This recipe was taught to me by my good friend Laura, who is also a nutrition student.  Laura and I make this together frequently, and the best version we ever made was in a hotel room in San Diego while we were on a road trip.  I like guacamole on everything from scrambled eggs to salad.  Use your imagination!

Prep time: 5 minutes

Serves 2

1 avocado

¼ of a medium onion, diced very fine

1 large clove of garlic, minced

sea salt to taste

  1. Cut around avocado lengthwise and twist open.  Use the tip of your knife to nudge out the pit.
  2. With a large spoon scoop out the avocado in to a bowl and then mash with a fork.
  3. Add diced onion and garlic and mix well.
  4. Start by adding a pinch of salt and mixing and build salt slowly to taste.  If you are eating guacamole with chips be sure to taste it with the chip as chips can vary in saltiness.

Original Recipe by brieats, copyright 2010

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Brie’s Kitchen tour, part 1

We have been in the process of remodeling our kitchen since early July.


My mom and I putting up a wallpaper border in 2004

dark, dank and dirty!

blue paint was my attempt to make it less 80s. It just made it more dark.

The cabinets were covered in yellow laminate like apartments remodeled in the 90s.  The laminate also had this weird space above the doors– hence our attempt to cover it with wallpaper border.  The counter tops were dark brown faux-wood laminate that went up the wall and sucked all of the light out of the room.  The appliances were almond color and of a likely late 80s/early 90s vintage as well.    The refrigerator was the WORST designed fridge I have ever had, including fridges in all 10 apartments I have lived in due to a strange raised shelf above the crisper drawers where things got lost and rotted.  It also beeped when the door was left open for more than a couple minutes, making cleaning it or even putting away groceries obnoxious.

Phase one of this remodel was Mr. Brie painstakingly peeling off the laminate (only possible because it was so old it was coming off on it’s own and because there was real wood cabinets below– new laminate does not come off particle board which is usually what is under there).  He sanded them all down and painted them a shiny bright white.  Initially Mr. Brie was going to make the cabinet doors, but instead found a place near Portland that will make them for not too much money and then he will just paint them.   This is the last step, as we will pick up the doors when we are in Oregon next.

Inside cabinets- before. Dark and dingy!

Inside cabinets- after. Bright and white!

Next we installed butcher block maple countertops, finished with seven coats of Tung oil which created a lovely glossy finish, but which we discovered is slightly sticky and we have to avoid putting plastic bags that have words on them (like grocery bags) as the words come off on the counters.

A white tile backsplash finished the look (Mr. Brie is finishing up the grouting today).

counters and backsplash (also bamboo cutting board in foreground)

And finally, after being back ordered for FIVE WEEKS my beloved new appliances arrived on Friday!

Shiny, lovely fridge

shiny new fridge!

I was bummed to discover I could not have the huge 36 cubic food fridge of my dreams because it would not fit in our kitchen without seriously cutting into cabinets or walls.   The new fridge is no bigger than my old one, but it is  at least easier to find things in, since the freezer is on the bottom and the fridge on the top.

love at first sight!

But my true love here is the new oven.  Once I saw these double ovens I was determined to have one– so often I will be cooking and have one thing getting cold while I make the next (such as when you bake potatoes and then want to broil meat).  Now I can do both at once, or three dozen cookies at once!  In order to have this beloved appliance I had to have a glass top stove, which I felt was a compromise.  My last oven was also glass top and I just am not a fan.  I would have loved a gas stove, but our house does not have a gas line.  It is rare to find a stainless steel oven with those regular raised burners anymore, and none of them have double ovens.  It seems induction cooktops are all the rage and I’m not sure why.  For one thing, they scratch easily and they are hard to clean.  I already have some cooked on sauce from last night I can’t get off.    That being said, this one is pretty awesome– the main burner has the option of single, double or triple heat, meaning you can use almost any size pan and then pick how wide you want the heat to go.  The other big burner has a fast boil option which is cool but I haven’t quite figured out how to control it yet– last night when I was making turkey stock I kept adjusting it from no simmer, to almost boiling.

no more hand washing dishes!

The dishwasher has revolutionized my life already, as I have been without one since at least August.  Hand washing is not fun, especially when you have wood counter tops that should not have water standing on them– no dish rack!

The other thing I am going to have to get used to is the microwave was taken down from above the stove for a couple months and I got used to unfettered access to the stove top.  Now there is a microwave above the stove again, AND it sticks out farther than the old one.  I scraped my hand on the corner grabbing for a spatula last night.  OUCH.

I’m so excited about my happy, shiny kitchen.  I’ll give another update once the doors are in.

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Sundays in the kitchen

Most Sundays I spend the bulk of the day in the kitchen.  Sunday is my day to make a complex dinner, cook ahead for the week or try something I’ve been meaning to try.    Yesterday I made Carnitas (Mexican pulled pork) for the first time, and turkey stock from the bones of Thanksgiving’s turkey breast (we did a breast rather than a whole turkey since there were only 7 of us and none of us likes dark meat).

I used the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Carnitas.  I have a subscription to their website and I highly recommend it.  I used to subscribe to the magazine, but the online subscription is so much better– you can search the recipes and equipment reviews and everything has been perfected and tried over and over again, which takes the guess work out of cooking.  (They don’t pay me to say this, it’s just true.)

I was a little grossed out cutting up the pork shoulder– I’m not used to using such fatty cuts of meat for one thing, and for another I was feeling guilty because I bought regular grocery store pork and not pasture raised, organic etc because that would have involved an extra half hour of driving.

Simmering the meat

I’m not going to post the recipe since I have to pay for access to it, but the gist of it was that I cut off the biggest fatty bits, cut the rest of the pork into approximately 2 inch cubes (not that round meat really makes cubes, but I tried) and then simmered it in a broth made of lime juice, oregano, cumin, orange juice, salt and pepper and then put it in the oven for 2 hours at low heat to simmer, then took it back out, reduced the sauce, added it in, and then broiled the meat to make it a bit crispy.  I have a new oven (which I will address in an upcoming post) which made it a bit challenging because I don’t know how hot to make things compared to the old one.

The stock was easy.  First of all, for my birthday my mom got me this stockpot. It’s absolutely genius!  There is a collander that fits into the pan so if you make pasta or stock, the solids are super easy to separate from the liquid with no mess! (Plus it has a handy-dandy vegetable steamer insert for the top, so if you are like me and put veggies in your pasta you can make them all at once!)

Observe the fantastic-ness:

meaty side

stock side

Stock in pot, bones etc. in collander, easy as pie!

Glorious, as my brother would say.

I make stock once a month or so, and my trick is to divide it into 2 and 4 cup ziplock bags, label it with my beloved label maker, and put them in the freezer.  Most recipes seem to call for 2 or 4 cups of chicken broth so this way I have an already portioned amount at the ready!  (The first couple times I made stock I put all of it in one big gallon container and froze it– I never used it.  I just threw a bag away that was probably a couple years old– you have to have a plan for using that much and it takes forever to defrost).

Yes, I do have OCD

As for the carnitas, I topped them with salsa and guacamole.  I had never in my life made salsa before– I’m not sure why.  I had intended to do that this year with tomatoes from my garden, but it was a cold summer and they never got ripe.  Instead I made salsa with this fancy can:


Muir Glen Organic Yolo Red Tomatoes

These are apparently special edition, costs $6 a can at Williams Sonoma tomatoes, which I got free this summer because I used to work for Muir Glen doing food demos.    Since I have never made salsa before from canned tomatoes, I can not attest to whether they are worth $6 a can.  I tested a bite of tomato fresh from the can and it tasted like tomato soup to me, but yummy, fresh tomato soup.  Anyway, here is the salsa recipe that I invented, inspired by one in Cook’s Illustrated I didn’t have the ingredients for:

Chipotle Salsa:

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (or about 1 1/2 cups fresh)

2 tablespoons diced Italian parsley (cilantro would work too, I just really don’t like it).

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder (I learned of this from Ali’s blog, as she is a fan and it took me forever to find it– the brand I have is McCormick’s)

1-2 teaspoons salt (to taste)

1/4 white onion minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Chop all of the above finely together on a large cutting board and then transfer to bowl.   (If you like less chunky salsa you could put it in a food processor or blender).

I am a little bit well known amongst my friends for the following guacamole recipe, although it was originally taught to me by my friend Laura, and I think it was taught to her by someone else, though we modified and perfected it together.   It always makes me think of her.

*I will note that I would probably not use this guac, or use less with this recipe, because it is very strong and it overpowered the other flavors in the dish.

Brie’s Famous Guacamole:

2 avocados, mashed

1/4 white onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2-1 tsp salt (I always add a pinch of salt, taste with a chip if I’m eating it with chips as they are salty too) then adjust salt as needed.

This is all I put in my base recipe– it’s incredibly simple, but so amazing.   Last night I also added a squeeze of lime and a little more parsley.

I topped the carnitas with shredded cabbage, served them on corn tortillas and they were fab:

Mr. Brie's plate-- I couldn't eat quite this many, though I wanted to!

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Back to basics

After a summer where I slowly lost 5 pounds simply by eating less, the scale has been creeping back up in the past month.   I have recently been assessing what may have happened in order to start moving in the other direction again.  Here are my thoughts:

1. Protein (or lack thereof):  over the past month or so I’ve started cooking a lot more, which is great except I have been making a lot of vegetarian recipes which are on the starchy side and only have beans as protein.   This is a great way of eating for a lot of people– but not for me.  If I don’t get a little animal protein at most meals, and limit my starch intake to a cup or so I am starving again in two hours and craving sugar as my blood sugar crashes.  I know this about myself but sometimes I need reminding.   Breakfast is particularly hard because I can not eat eggs or yogurt due to food allergies.  What works really well for me is green smoothies:  soy or other non-dairy milk, rice or pumpkin seed protein powder, stevia, greens and frozen berries.   I feel great after one of those, but I get bored with them.  But eating anything else I’m hungry again in an hour and cranky from low blood sugar in two.

2. Sugar:  I have tried many times to cut sugar completely out of my life and it doesn’t work.  I just end up binge eating it later.  All summer long I was eating a small portion of something, usually non-dairy ice cream or something and then putting it away.  Ever since my birthday cake at the end of October I have been over doing the sugar.  The lack of protein is part of this problem, and also too much baking.  The holidays are not going to help this!  I think #3 is also part of the issue:

3. Boredom: After spending all of my 20s working and going to school, stretched way too thin, suddenly I have a full-time job where I can work from home half the time and I spend too much time home by myself.  I’m still not quite used to all this spare time I have on the weekends not doing homework.  I need to find some new hobbies (besides baking!)

4.  Exercise:  I am terribly unmotivated most of the time to do this– I’ve been really tired lately, perhaps a symptom of the above mentioned blood sugar control, but also whenever I decide on a workout plan I talk myself out of it almost as soon as I begin– weights are too heavy or too light, not enough or too much cardio, etc.  Also my gym is kind of far away and that does not aid in my motivation to go there, especially now that it’s cold and dark all the time.

So what to do about this?  I’ve already started making sure I get protein at each meal, which does help.  I need to cut back on baking for awhile after Thanksgiving (I’m cooking the entire T-day dinner for my husband’s family on Friday) and I’m thinking of going back to the Body for Life workout plan– it’s the first serious weight training routine I ever did back in college and I was in amazing shape when I finished it.  Back to basics.

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Here we go

Here I am blogging again.  I’ve had a couple past attempts at blogs, but they were either not focused enough or too specific and I decided I needed a new start after several months of not writing.  So hello– my name is Brie and I eat, hence the title of the blog (brie eats = brieats).  This blog will be about my attempts to be healthy in spite of a busy schedule and a world full of conflicting health messages.   In my early 20s I tried almost every diet out there, with varying success but ended up walking a fine line over the edge of some seriously disordered eating.   My obsessions led me to a Master’s Degree in nutrition, and though I am far from perfect I have calmed down and have learned to eat a more balanced diet (though at times, still with more sugar than I should be eating!)  I have sensitivities to gluten, dairy and eggs which can be challenging, but fortunately I enjoy cooking.    Exercise is something I’m struggling with– after years of over exercising, the pendulum has swung in the other direction and I can’t seem to find a consistent routine– I often end up overdoing it for a few weeks and then doing nothing at all.  I’m working on that now and trying not to obsess and enjoy life.  So welcome to my blog!

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