Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Quinona, it rhymes with Winona

We've been both using things up from the freezer in anticipation of what Dad refers to as Mom's "Mother Hubbard" tendencies, as well as trying out a few new things. In the fall, Mom begins stocking up the cabinets, the stairway pantry and the freezers. Through winter, we are nearly always stocked for a blizzard. Anyone who doesn't know, living just a little south of Chicago, most winters, there is the very distinct possibility of being stuck for at least a day if God decides to bless us with some snow days. Now, of course, around here, it takes a heck of a lot more snow to constitute a "snow day" than some where like North Carolina, so if we get there, we do need to be prepared.

More often than not, however, the weather is burdensome in terms of going out shopping, but nothing more. That said, Mom still begins gathering nuts like a mother squirrel, stocking a tree for winter. In order for that to happen, we have to use up the old to rotate in the new.

One of the things in the freezer are packages of pork chops, which come from a farmer from whom Mom and Dad have bought 1/2 a pig each of the last few years. We had so much pork in the freezer we could have started a barbecue joint. For some reason, this year they seemed to eat less, so we are still working on it. Mom and Dad had pork chops tonight.

While they ate from the farm, I looked to the sea. A while back I was at Ultra Foods and found some individually wrapped salmon fillets. They were a reasonable portion at a great price so I put some away for easy lunches of dinners. I used the last one for my dinner.

I was thinking about making some tomato sauce the other day, so I was reading some tips for getting the best flavor. One of them mentioned cooking up a bit of tomato paste to add to the mix. The author said that by cooking the paste for a bit, letting it darken, you cook the sugars, sweetening and enriching the flavor. I am a big fan of sun dried tomato flavor, and I have learned that cooking tomato paste this way produces a similar flavor if you use a bit of olive oil. While perusing the freezer and discovering my last salmon fillet, I thought I might try this flavor with the fish.

I sauteéd some tomato paste in a splash of olive oil until it turned from bright read to a deep burgundy, adding a bit of stevia and some crushed garlic. The sweet flavor and heavenly smell consumed my senses when I sampled a bit. I put most of it away, leaving only enough to have a bit of a tomato crust across the fish when I added it to the pan.

With the proteins taken care of, we turned to the sides. Mom and Dad picked up several new things last time they ventured out to Costco. I'm sure you've seen those microwavable bags of rice, 90 seconds in the microwave to steamed, sometimes flavored, rice. Almost all of the flavored varieties are off limits to me because they use some form of flour in the seasoning. The plain ones and the buttered flavored ones are okay, but plain brown rice can become boring if you have too much. While shopping, the parents discovered a similarly package product which is a mix of brown rice and quinoa, with garlic seasoning.

I read the label carefully and discovered, gleefully, that it does in fact appear to be gluten free*. This seemed like the perfect night to give it a try, alongside some steamed vegetables. This great product, Seeds of Change Unyuni Quisnoa and Whole Grain Brown Rice, did not fail to please. It still tickles me to hear Dad talking about eating quinoa. He still can't pronounce it (he calls it Quinona, it rhymes with Winona), but a year ago, I'm not sure he would even have tried it.

All in all, the meal was beautiful on the plate and on my tongue. The salmon, tender inside and slightly crisp with a tomato crust on the outside, had a sweet, smoky flavor of sun dried tomatoes gathered from a far off Italian vineyard. The rice was tender, the quinoa slightly firm, the combination accented by a wonderful garlic flavor cooked soaked into each grain. While I'm not giving them much column space, a dependable frozen vegetable medley, upped the nutritional content and had a slightly buttery flavor, cooked simply by steaming them in the microwave. Stay tuned to see what else finds its way to the table from the freezer.

MySpace Codes

*On the website (linked above), it lists this food as Dairy Free, Vegetarian appropriate, and whole grain. It is NOT listed as Gluten free, and this is one of their labeling options. Perhaps they do not use a dedicated facility and do not want to risk labeling it as such. I based my decision to eat it on the ingredients listed on the package, and suffered no reaction. I have contacted the company to ask about the labeling and will update when I hear from them.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...

If you're prepared.

Well friends, this year's family picnic marked the one year point in my gluten free journey. Last year at this time, I was thinking along the lines that cutting most of the gluten from my diet would alleviate symptoms of several conditions with which I was struggling. I hadn't yet realized that the gluten was not simply exacerbating those problems, but rather causing them in the first place.

Thinking as such, I headed to the 2009 Turner Family Picnic with the idea that I had been so good about cutting out gluten for the whole week that I could go ahead and have some of the delicious baked goods my cousins and aunt passed around. I ate fried chicken brought by another aunt, dutifully stripped of it's coating and skin, but with no regard for the fact that this did not at all guard against cross contamination. I gleefully consumed brownies, cookies, sweet breads and the like, all the while praising myself for my restraint the entire week leading up to this day which allowed me to enjoy these treats.

That evening and for several days to come, I saw the consequences of my error in judgement in the form of stomach cramps, a resurgence of the psoriasis on my knees, a flare up of the acne like condition on my cheeks, sluggishness and many other symptoms I which had been miraculously absent from my life the week before. That day, I promised myself I would never again knowingly cause myself to feel that way.

It's been a year, full of learning and making mistakes, trying new foods and discovering some truly wonderful, naturally gluten free foods, which I might not otherwise have tasted. In the past year, the one lesson most important in my life is one the Boy Scouts have been telling us all along. Always be prepared.

Whether I'm planning ahead for a quick and easy dinner after a late day of work or class, or packing for a family gathering, preparation remains the key element to a successful, low stress day. With that in mind, I began preparing for today's picnic yesterday. I baked Betty Crocker gluten free chocolate chips (add in a little guar or xanthan gum for better consistency) and cornstarch brownies. I cooked the rice pasta salad from my Lil's gift bag, and I took out chicken burgers and OMG's burger buns from the freezer. Before leaving this morning, I wrapped each burger and each bun in a foil package so they could be cooked on the grill beside everyone else's food.

After explaining to my cousin why I needed my food to remain in the foil, and knowing that everything else was ready, I had the easiest day in a whole year. How amazing it felt heading into the meal knowing that I would not need to fill up on chips or cheese to hold me over until I got home (I've done that on less prepared days). When the food was ready and we all gathered in prayer, I offered my own silent gratitude for the gift of foresight, which made the entire day a breeze.

I made a meal of chicken/Swiss cheese/honey mustard burgers on gf buns, pasta salad with corn and black beans, and potato chips, with a dessert of cookies and brownies which matched those being passed around by the wheat eaters.

The simple joy of planning ahead allowed me to enjoy my family, the nice weather, and a delicious outdoor meal. Now, if only the mosquitoes hadn't taken advantage of all those things...

Saturday, July 17, 2010


It's been too long my friends! I've been lost in the world of job hunting, sitting in the driveway for our garage sale, mailing off book donations and dropping off stuffed animals for a charity. Last night, however, I spent over an hour in the kitchen making something magnifico!

I used Ener-G gluten free bread crumbs mixed with grated Parmesan cheese and Italian seasonings to create a coating for a deliciously tender Gluten Free Chicken Parmesan. I served it over Tinkyada Spaghetti style rice pasta. We also had fresh steamed green beans that I picked up at a local farm stand and mom shucked while I made the chicken. A truly delicious home made meal, even more satisfying than knowing my family ate well was the fact that my brother and father BOTH went back for seconds on the chicken, praising the flavor, and not bothered by the gluten free aspect. It has taken them a while, but they are both much more willing to try gluten free versions of recipes now, having experienced that gluten free doesn't mean flavor free.

I kind of eyeballed the amounts here, I can give you some basics. I used 6 chicken breast, two large eggs and approximately 3 cups of coating (2 c bread crumbs, ¾ c cheese, ¼ c seasoning). The amount you need will vary depending on how much chicken you're making.

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Italian Seasonings (pre-made or your own blend)
  • Eggs
  • Oil

  1. Heat oven to 350°, spray shallow baking pans with non-stick cooking spray
  2. In a shallow bowl, combine breadcrumbs, cheese and seasonings. In a second bowl, beat the eggs to combine.
  3. Butterfly cut the chicken breasts so they are large and flat. Using a meat mallet, pound them to tenderize and further flatten.
  4. In a large skillet, heat oil as you begin to coat the chicken.
  5. Coat chicken, first in egg, then transfer to the breadcrumb mix and turn until thoroughly coated.
  6. Place chicken in oil and fry for a few minutes. Repeat step 4 until the pan is full, turning the previous breast each time you add one.
  7. When pan is filled, remove breasts in order they were cooked. Place them in baking pans. and cover with a bit of spaghetti sauce.
  8. When all the chicken has been breaded, fried in oil and placed in baking pans, bake for 15 minutes.
  9. Serve over your favorite pasta and enjoy!

Monday, June 28, 2010

South of the Border Sea Food

I've had a red pepper sitting on the counter for a while. It became shriveled and somewhat dry, but smelled so wonderful that I knew I had to find something wonderful to make with it. Yesterday, after the corn was cooked, I thought it would be a shame to waste a well heated grill and smoldering charcoal, so I began looking for other things to cook. My mind settled on the pepper.

I sliced it up and wrapped it in a foil packet with olive oil. After a while on the grill, the pepper was perfectly roasted and re-hydrated by the oil. It smelled wonderful.

I put the packet in the refrigerator, determined to find something wonderful to make it into. I started thinking of making fish for tonight's dinner, and I thought of the lime and avocados I had sitting in the produce drawer.

Today, I measured out some quinoa and chicken stock into a saucepan and let it soak while I chopped a shallot, and sauteéd it with some mushrooms. I added the shallot an mushrooms to the pan and used the Magic Bullet® to puree the pepper with the olive oil from inside the foil packet. Into the pan I stirred the roasted pepper pulp and set the whole thing to boiling.

While the quinoa cooked up, I rinsed out the Bullet's cup and added cilantro, the fruit from half an avocado, juice from a small lime and a small amount of oil too keep everything smooth. When all that was blended up into a nice paste, I used a basting brush to paint it onto the top of some orange roughy fillets which were beginning to sear in a large everyday pan. When they were white almost all the way through, I turn them over and added the avocado paste to the other side. I cooked them until the runoff began to brown in the pan and the quinoa was red and fluffy.

The flavor combination was amazing! I saw my Grandma later that night and had her taste the leftovers. She is not a mushroom fan (texture), and so she ate around them in the quinoa, but even she agreed that they added to the overall flavor. My dad thoroughly enjoyed the quinoa, which he regularly mocks as a weird food, but never complains about the taste. :)

The bite of lime in the fish was offset by the creamy texture of the avocado, and together they made for quite a dance of flavor on the tongue.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Corn Roast Revisited

Earlier this week I mentioned getting a steal on corn at Ron's Market. This purchase came from my recent desire for a taste memory from my childhood. When I was young, my aunt and uncle had an annual party at the end of the summer, the Corn Roast. My uncle set up a grill and roasted bushels of corn over an open flame. At the end of the grill area was a large coffee can, filled with melted butter, into which each ear of corn was dunked after cooking to perfection. To my taste buds, grilled corn means mosquito bites and giggles while hiding in a gazebo in the woods. It means watermelon and cousins, netted food covers to keep flies away, thick ropes holding a plank swing from an ancient tree. Most of all, however, corn roasted on a grill means Uncle Bill.

My Uncle Bill was a wonderful man, always ready with a joke to put a smile on everyone's faces. He was generous of his time and resources, and even at the end of his life, joy seemed to radiate from his eyes and his smile. It's been about three years since he left this earth, but his memory remains.

With him in mind, I soaked the ears of corn, still wrapped in their leaves, in cold water while I set up the grill. After getting the charcoal jut right, I arranged the ears on the grill and let them cook for about 15 minutes, turned them and cooked them for another 15 minutes. I got my corn grilling information from GrilledCornOnTheCob.com, which gives step by step instructions with photos on how to make great grilled corn.

After all was cooked and eaten, I looked to my mother and said, "All that was missing was the coffee can," and we both smiled, remembering a great man.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

OMG, What a treat!

I've mentioned OMG It's Gluten Free Café in earlier posts, but I don't think I've ever really told you anything about this great place. They're located at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Vollmer Road in the Harlem Crossing plaza in Frankfort, IL, at 19810 S. Harlem Avenue.

They opened for business back in March, but just had an official Grand Opening Celebration today. The owner, Julie Scianna, like a lot of Celiac patients, diagnosed herself after lots of problems, several false diagnoses, and plenty of unnecessary worry. After starting up a gluten free cooking club with some friends, she and the chef, Andrew (A.J.) Hebda, started creating quality, flavorful food that people actually would enjoy eating, and a local restaurateur encouraged them to start up a business.

This place is amazing. It's a small store front café with a handful of tables for dining in. Besides bakery items such as cookies, brownies, scones, muffins, and cupcakes, they have several enticing lunch and dinner options. The pizza is crisp, lasagna perfectly layered, chicken parmigiana crusted in their own breadcrumbs and for the kids (of those of us who like to eat like kids), chicken fingers and grilled cheese are sure to please.

When my Celiac Support Group met here a month or so ago, one member made the comment that it was so strange to just know that all your food was safe. She had to remind herself that that the salad she ordered, which arrived at her table with croutons made from their baked in store bread, was not a danger to her health. The delicious food is just that much better for the knowledge that nothing in the whole café has ever come anywhere near a cross contaminant. No wheat flour has ever been measured with their measuring cups, mixed with their mixer, baked in their oven or even passed through the doors.

My mother joined me at the Grand Opening where she enjoyed samples of a blueberry muffin, white chocolate chip cookie and brownie. She prefers cake brownies, so the mouthwatering fudgy brownie was not to her taste, but the cookie and muffin made a great impression. An prize wheel was set up outside the store for prizes such as product discounts. I won a BOGO on pizza, and Mom won a date with the chef! Of course, they hadn't told A.J. they were using that particular prize, so I'm not sure how that would even work out.

All told, Mom and I left with a 1lb. bag of granola, a dozen assorted cookies, two 14 inch cheese pizza (frozen), a lemon poppyseed scone, a vanilla cupcake and a pecan roll. The last three were fresh from the bakery case, one of each of us, Mom, Dad and me. I shared a little of my cupcake with each of them, and Dad, one my toughest food critics, raved about it. Mom fell in love with the pecan roll, which she generously shared with Dad, and even gave me a taste. She wants to go back to OMG for more, and she doesn't even follow a GF diet! The scone rests in its box, awaiting our first taste, which I'm sure will not disappoint.

Friday, June 25, 2010

This little piggy went to (Ron's) Market

On the corner of Sauk Trail and East End Avenue in South Chicago Heights is an open air farm stand called Ron's Market. Now and then I drop by to scope out deals on produce, and the other day, I scored some great deals.

After a morning full of errands, I decided to stop in and see what was ripe. Less than an hour later, I was home with a cantaloupe, a head of cabbage, 10 ears of corn, 8 peaches and a pint of strawberries, all for under $7.00.

If you're in the area, I recommend taking a stroll through the place, you might be handsomely rewarded with a great deal some favorite produce. With 75¢ cantaloupe, 99¢ pints of strawberry, peaches and cabbage for 39¢/lb and 5 ears of corn for a dollar, it's going to be a great week of produce at my house.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Napoleon, gimme some of your tots!

I have not had tater tots in over a year. I thought they were gone from my menu forever. Most tater tots, pressed hash browns, some fries, and various other pre-made potato products are rolled or coated in flour to give them that golden brown color and crunch. Recently, I ran into someone at the health food store who told me that Ore-Ida products are gluten free. I almost did a happy dance right there in the store.

Later that week, I realized that we already had some Ore-Ida Mini Tater Tots in the basement freezer!

As luck would have it, a couple weeks ago, while at Costco, we discovered some GF Dijon and Swiss Chicken Burgers, which I decided to try out. All the components of a classic summertime meal seemed to be falling into place, short only one. Buns. In general I just forgo bread products, or, where I can, sub in a corn tortilla. But a burger on a tortilla? No, thanks. Another little bit of serendipity came into play at this point. I remembered that only a week ago, I saw the facebook post from OMG It's Gluten Free regarding the newly installed freezer case :)

Yes, it came down to a freezer case. You see, some of the products sold at OMG are only available certain times of the week, as that is when they are made. Now, however, with the arrival of this freezer, some of the products one might call "stock-up staples," such as buns, pizza crusts, frozen pizzas and pie shells, are available for our daily purchasing needs.

I stopped and talked with Julie, the owner, who told me to toast the buns for about 4 minutes for the best texture. Just looking at these adorable buns made me eager to get home and start dinner. The tops are dusted with coarse salt and herbs, the bottom are chalky white with the remnant of GF flour dusting the pan, and they have a nice crust. Like all gluten free breads, they crumb a bit, but besides toasting it, I also steamed one by wrapping a moist paper towel around it and popping it in the microwave for a few seconds. The bun soaked up the moisture and held its crumbs together

The buns are a great size, big enough to hold a large burger without all the meat hanging over the sides, which also meant there was a good meat to bread ratio in each bite. In the end, I had a chicken burger on a bun with tater tots, something that less than a year ago I would have have thought possible. So, thank you Ore-Ida, for realizing that flour is an unnecessary ingredient in tater tots. Thank you Julie, for having a good idea and running with it. Thank you A.J. (OMG chef/baker), for helping Julie's good idea make its way to my plate.

P.s.: For those of you who have been unable to stop thinking about Napoleon Dynamite since reading that title, I've provided the following clip, courtesy of Hulu. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Meal Worth Repeating

Recently I've had some exciting food-splorations which I haven't yet shared with you. The other day, I cooked and ate an artichoke, on Thursday I tried some Thai Red Rice crackers, yesterday, I made a Roma tomato, Spanish onion and ground chicken meat sauce and today I tried Babybel Cheese.

For several years I've timidly glanced at artichokes in the produce section of my supermarket. Spiky and acorn-like, I've been somewhat mystified as to how to prepare and eat these interesting veggies. I've eaten spinach artichoke dip, jalepeño artichoke dip and other variations, but I have never been able to wrap my mind around the whole food artichoke.

After reading about Shauna's description of eating artichoke leaves in an elementary school classroom, I knew it was time to try one. It turns out, artichokes are not actually difficult to cook or eat.

It was like eating a Christmas present. After steaming the artichoke in a pan of water, slowly unwrapped it, leaf by leaf, and ate them dipped in butter. Scraping the leaves through my teeth, the buttery artichoke pulp danced around on my tongue, smooth and creamy. When all the leaves were finished, I encountered the choke and the heart. The choke is a fibrous clump at the center of the artichoke, not edible, which must be removed. It came out easily and beneath it lie the artichoke heart. The heart has a texture like softened cream cheese, and an almost sweet, mild flavor. I must buy more.

The rice crackers were one of the items in my gift bag from Lil's, and they were a pleasant surprise. Beneath the unassuming packaging, and made from simple ingredients, these crackers are meant to be topped with meats, cheese or dip. I first tried them without topping on Thursday, to assess the flavor and texture. They remind me a bit of rice cakes, with a slightly puffed crispness. Flavor-wise, they are fairly neutral and easily complementary to anything with which you might top them.

The sauce. Mmmm... the sauce. My friend Bridget gave me The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook:Spicing up Life with Italian, Asia, and Mexican Recipes for my birthday, and for the first recipe, I tweaked their meat sauce. I don't eat beef or pork, so instead of ground beef, I used leaner ground chicken. The recipe calls for a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, but recently I've been reading about the potential negative affects of the canned tomatoes. It seems the acid in the tomatoes can break down the lining in the can, releasing chemicals which we then ingest. I don't know all the science behind it, but since I found some Roma tomatoes at the farmstand for a good price, I just sidestepped the whole can issue and diced them myself.

Half a large Spanish onion, several cloves of garlic and some herbs, fresh ground pepper and sea salt as well as grated Parmesan cheese and a light sprinkling of Truvia instead of sugar came together beautifully. After cooking the ground meat and the sauce separately, I combined the two for a somewhat sweet and definitely flavorful addition to past or anything over which I might want to serve it.

While dreaming up dinner, I decided to finally sample some of the babybel cheese Mom keeps buying. One taste, and immediately I thought: SPINACH, I must have this with spinach.

I sautéed some spinach in garlic and olive oil, added the crumbled babybel cheese, and topped it all with some of the meat sauce. I had it with a baked potato, and it was definitely a meal worth repeating.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hospital Food

I'm sitting in a hospital waiting room right now, watching the Hawks rally and wondering if a nap would be inappropriate. After they took her back, I headed down to the cafeteria and perused the offerings for something I could eat. It may sound crazy, but I actually don't mind eating at the hospital.

Now, before you think I, or someone I care about, spend copious amounts of time in the hospital, warranting my fondness for their cuisine, let me explain. My mother and I have worked at the school across the street from the hospital for several years. The two institutions were founded by and are still overseen, in varying degree, by the same group of Franciscan sisters, and it is not unusual for staff from the school to walk across for lunch, or even dinner on nights when they must stay late for conferences or programs. I have eaten in the hospital cafeteria more times than I can count, and I must say, usually the food is good.

I know, I know, hospital food? Good? It's true though.

One thing to remember about eating in any cafeteria is that you can't just start putting things on your tray. Look around, see all of what is available. One dish might seem very appealing, until you notice something even better, but by that point, if it's already on your tray, it's too late. I browsed for a few moments before settling on broiled Italian chicken, steamed broccoli in a bit of butter, and a salad from the salad bar. The salad bar is an undervalued asset in the cafeteria setting. I opted for the darker spring greens over the fairly nutrient empty iceberg mix, added shredded carrots, sliced hard-boiled egg and a little cheddar. Topped with a honey mustard dressing, this was truly a wonderful salad.

My only complaint with the meal is that in an effort to cut down dish washing and accommodate those who take their food and go, the cafeteria only uses Styrofoam dishes. (Sidenote: Welcome to the world precious one! I just heard the Brahms Lullaby being played over the hospital intercom, signaling a birth.) I hunted down a full size plate for my chicken and broccoli, rather than use two bowls plus another for salad, and I used real silverware. They'll just have to wash them.

A Mountain Dew to wash it down may help me stave off that nap, which probably would in fact be inappropriate at this point. Ok, I also had dessert. Zarlengo's, who you may have read about my post Onions, ash and leather, besides selling from their shop and at Sox games, also provide novelties to hospital cafeterias. I was finishing up a Zarbar, vanilla softserve on a stick, covered in smooth milk chocolate, when I began this post. (Another one! Welcome to you too little one!)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

That's the way the cookie crumbles

Last night I attended the June meeting of the Celiac Support Group for the south suburbs. We meet once a month on a Tuesday to discuss events, food, products and issues related to eating and living gluten free.

Recently, the meetings have been held at varying locations. P.F. Chang's, OMG It's Gluten Free, and last night, Lil's Dietary Shop Lil's is in a plaza on 111th, west of Western Ave, in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood. Although a bit of a drive from my south suburban home, the trip was well worth the ride. Marcie, the owner, stocks an entire shop full of a large and diverse quantity of of gluten free products, as well as a new expansion which contains products for other special dietary needs. Between the gift bags which Marcie provided to everyone in attendance, the free raffle items, and those which I purchased, I went home with quite a haul.

At the end of the night, a theme seemed to have appeared. Cookies. One of the items in my gift bag was a box of peanut butter cookies by Tree of Life. Once home, I was talked into opening the box and trying one, by my peanut butter loving, wheat eating father. Weighing my opinion against other products I've tried, I reached into the package and pulled out two cookies. Dad and I each bit into one of the crisp cookies and savored the full, yet not overpowering, taste of peanut butter. These cookies do have a bit of what I refer to as the "gluten free grit," that somewhat grainy texture that can sometimes make you fell as if you've eaten a spoonful of sand, but with this type of cookie, it somehow doesn't detract from the experience. Perhaps the memory of Pecan Sandies aligned my brain to a positive association between grit and nut cookies, but for whatever reason, they worked.

During the meeting, Marcie provided us with some fantastic samples straight off the shelves. The group favorite, a coconut macaroon by Mrs. Crimble's, was indeed an AMAZING treat. So good in fact, that I had to buy some :) These smooth and chewy cookies have the strong flavor of toasted coconuts and dreamy chocolate of a certain type of cookies sold by young girls all across the country, but way, WAY better. Now the only problems is that, with only six in a package, I'm afraid if I open them, I'll eat them all!

Besides the peanut butter cookie, I also tried some cinnamon thins, which my parent's picked up at... (drumroll..) STARBUCK'S! For those of you unfamiliar with the plight of the Celiac at Starbuck's, let me fill you in. Last summer, only two month's after its introduction, Starbuck's removed from their shelves the one and only gluten free baked good, an orange cake which was supposed to have been delicious. I say "supposed to have been," because I never had the opportunity to try it. Problems with limited demand and short shelf life caused the company to abandon the idea rather than work out a solution. Personally, I would have frozen the cakes, put a note in the display case to say they were available, and served them warm from the microwave. Anyhow, back to the cookies. My beloved snickerdoodles need not be far from my taste memory with these on the market. Lucy's has managed to create a crisp but buttery cookie, without the gluten free grit, which taste so good, wheat eaters and gf diners alike will love them. Oh, and for those with additional dietary restrictions, Lucy's cookies are also milk, egg, peanut, and tree nut free as well as vegan!

All told, it was a good day for the discovery of quality premade cookies. Now, if I could just call up the courage to buy various flours and make my own...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly...

...I've gotta love good food 'til I die. Can't help, loving that meal of mine

Ok, so obviously I'm feeling a bit dramatic today, hence the Show Boat reference. (Click here for the real version) The point being, I had fish for dinner.

I came home after job hunting looking for something delicious, quick and simple to make, and yes, this fit that criteria. My dad was having chicken sausage and decided to sautée some onions and mushroom on the side. I took what was left, added a bit more olive oil and sea salt to brown them up, plus a little freshly crushed garlic, and cooked a salmon steak right in the same pan. I steamed some frozen veggies in the microwave and heated up some brown rice to round off the meal.

Steamed veggies and brown rice, you might be asking, how can that be delicious? With only a few additions (calorie free additions, I might add), it is totally possible. I added a little sea salt to both side dishes, plus some Mrs. Dash and juice squeezed directly from the lemon to the veggies. To the rice I added a shake of garlic powder, and violà!

Adding to the simple joy of this quick dinner is the fact that the weather is so beautiful, I was able to eat it while enjoying a sweet spring breeze through my open window.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It's my party and I'll sigh if I want to

Today, my family went out to celebrate my brother's and my birthday. I was quite excited to try the gluten free menu at Outback steakhouse, and it did not fail to please.

Contrary to my experiences at some restaurants with gluten free options, I actually had a difficult time deciding what to order, as there were so many good choices. As I also do not eat red meat or pork, often my choices are limited to plain grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. While that is not a bad option, it is always nice to be allowed the indulgence of indecision. While both the Grilled Chicken on the Barbie (BBQ grilled chicken) and the Norwegian Salmon sounded quite tempting, I settled on the Alice Springs Chicken®, described online as:

Chicken breast flame grilled and topped with sautéed mushrooms, crisp bacon, melted Monterey Jack and Cheddar and finished with our honey mustard sauce. (Outback Menu)

I nixed the bacon and substituted Aussie Fries (not GF) for a baked potato. The strings of melted cheese blended perfectly with the sharp bite of the honey mustard and the slippery, chewy flesh of mushrooms.

My meal was complemented not only by a bottomless glass of cool, refreshing iced tea, but by the love and company of my parents, grandmothers, aunt and uncle, brother and his girlfriend. Without the anxiety of what I might eat that wouldn't make me sick, and knowing the wait- and kitchen staff were knowledgeable about my needs, I was able to sit back and simply enjoy my meal and conversation.

What birthday would be complete without a sweet treat? I asked to go to Outback, not just for the dinner options, but because they have a GF dessert. The Chococalte Thunder From Down Under® was a perfect end to a wonderful meal:

An extra generous pecan brownie is crowned with rich vanilla ice cream, drizzled with our classic warm chocolate sauce and finished with chocolate shavings and whipped cream. A chocolate lover's dream. (Outback Menu)

And a dream it was. The first bite, warm and chewy, soaked with creamy melted ice cream and heavy, sweet whipped cream, had a "fresh form the oven, served with a hug from Grandma," feel to it. It was not hard to imagine that I was sitting around a kitchen table with my loved ones rather than in the middle of a public restaurant. I actually stopped for a moment, just tasting, closed my eyes and sighed. Happy Birthday to me.

Fiesta Lime Chicken

One of my friends requested that I post this recipe, previously alluded to in a facebook status. I spent the afternoon creating sweet, brown caramelized onions for a rich flavor base. I brought in fresh cilantro from the garden and used diced tomatoes from which I drained all the juice in order to make for an almost sun dried flavor and texture after cooking. Garlic, peeled and chopped along with freshly squeezed lime juice both added to the ballet of tastes dancing across this moist chicken.

I served this chicken with boiled corn on the cob and steamed french cut green beans, but a spicy Mexican rice and smooth black beans would complement it as well.

Meaghan's Fiesta Lime Chicken

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 c diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 c diced tomato
  • juice from 1/2 lime (1-2 t)
  • 1-2 T cilantro leaves
  • 1 T olive oil
  • sea salt
  1. In a large skillet or frying pan with a lid, add onions and oil, mixing well
  2. Sprinkle onions with sea salt (to help draw out the moisture) and saute on low heat until caramelized, but not burnt
  3. When onions are not quite ready, add garlic
  4. Lay chicken over onion and garlic, sprinkle with cilantro and lime juice
  5. Cook chicken one minute, turn over and cover with tomatoes
  6. Place lid on pan and continue cooking on medium heat until slightly browned
  7. Turn chicken and brown the other side

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Breakfast of (Incan) Champions

Since going gluten free, I have discovered several foods I might otherwise not have tried. One such food,quinoa, sadly, might never have entered my consciousness, let alone my diet.

Quinoa (KEEN-wah), a small grain (well, technically a seed, but we're going with grain), originally hails from the Andes Mountains, and was sacred to the Inca. With at least as much protein as milk, ALL the essential amino acids and myriad vitamins, quinoa has been called a supergrain, and rightly so. It cooks like similarly to rice, but can be prepared to consistencies ranging from rice to creamy porridge. All depends on the type and amount of liquid used to cook it, as well as the cook time.

One of the cool things about this food is that you can do almost anything with it. Last weekend I used a 2:1 chicken broth to water combination to cook up a large batch to use with dinner. This leads me to the other cool thing about this grain. A small amount with last you for a while, a large amount with go on forever! When cooking quinoa, you MUST remember that it practically triples in size from raw to cooked. I wasn't thinking about the grow factor and made so much on Monday that I had to give some away or risk it going to waste. And that was after I packaged some in single serve bags in the freezer!

As I waited for the liquid to cook into my quinoa, I was engrossed in the book I'm currently reading, Gluten Free Girl by Shauna James Aheren. It just so happened that I came across the section discussing gluten free grains, among them, quinoa. After reading her ideas on the grain, I did some internet research and discovered the idea of cooking quinoa in fruit juice for breakfast rather than broth for dinner. I gave it a try the other day and made a few discoveries.

  1. I still have to work out how much to cook for a single serving
  2. Either quinoa takes longer to swell in fruit juice, or my slightly out of round pan is letting too much steam escape the edges of the lid
  3. Keep the temperature high
  4. If it's too dry/not done/didn't grow, just add more liquid and keep going!
Because I simply can't wait to share them with you, today will be a double feature in terms of recipes :)

Savory Quinoa
  • uncooked quinoa
  • broth of your choice, water or a mixture of them
  • cloves of garlic
  • fresh herbs such as basil, cilatro, thyme, oregano or a mixture like Mrs. Dash
  • sea salt

You'll notice I've not included amounts. This is because your needs will vary. To decide how much of these things you will need, decide how much finished quinoa you want to yield. You need twice as much liquid as grain, and you only need 1/3 the amount of finished quinoa when you measure the raw quinoa. If you want 3 cups of cooked quinoa, use 1 cup uncooked and 2 cups of liquid. The liquid I used was 2/3 low sodium, fat free chicken broth and 1/3 water. Experiment.

The spices are the same idea, if you make more, use more, and vice versa. Into the pan I tossed my qunioa and liquid. I peeled and chopped the garlic, adding it directly to the liquid in the pan, and adding the herbs at the same time. I ground a small amount of sea salt into the pan. Over a high flame, heat to a boil, cover and boil for 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.

I served my batch with a chicken stir fry made of diced chicken breast, strips of peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and chopped carrots. It would stand all on its own though.

Cranberry Apple Walnut Quinoa

  • ½ c uncooked quinoa
  • 1½ c Cranberry Apple Juice
  • ¼-½ c chopped apple
  • ¼-½ c chopped walnuts
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan with a lid
  2. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, cook for 15 minutes on high or until liquid is absorbed

If the consistency is not that of porridge, add more liquid (I just add water), put the lid back on and keep cooking. It might take longer than 15 minutes to get a softer texture, but if you like a couscous-esque texture, you can stop there.

After transferring the cooked cereal to a bowl, I like to add a little half & half or vanilla soy milk. Delicious!

More information about Quinoa

Onions, ash and leather

While I love to cook, and find that there is so much flavor to be explored, sometimes prepared foods give you a lot of flexibility. I was at the White Sox game tonight, and I had a delicious evening, all gluten free and all fantastic.

I started the evening with custom nachos from the Tex-Mex stand. These are not those horrible nachos of sporting even infamy, with neon orange gelatinous cheese. These are fully loaded, no cheese product sauce added, crisp bits of joy. At this stand, the customer chooses the base, much like at Chipotle Grill, then adds to it. As I cannot eat the gluten laden tortillas used for burritos or fajitas, I opt for the crisp corn chips. Complementing this crunch, I add soft, shredded chicken, juicy tomatoes, biting salsa, cool and creamy guacamole and a spattering of shredded cheese and lettuce. Nachos may be a finger food, but I always grab a fork for this monster sized dish.

A little later in the night, I ventured out to see a friend, selling Italian ice from a cart covered with a festive red, green and white umbrella. This is their first season with the White Sox, hopefully the first of many to come. Their's is not mass marketed, overly sweetened, bogged down with artificial flavoring Italian ice. It is smooth, creamy, cool and satisfying, handmade. My friend, who, along with his cousins, sells it at the games, also makes the ice, alongside his parents, brother and cousins. They work from a small, seasonal shop in Chicago Heights, IL, which has been providing the area with quality love on a spoon since 1983. Check out Zarlengo's Italian Ice & Gelato on the web or Facebook, but if you're in the area, you really just need to go there.

I had Oranges 'n' Creme Italian ice, which melted slowly in the heat, dripping down the cup to land with a splash upon my hand. It killed me to speed, even slightly, my consumption of this flavor experience, but until the ice was below the cup edge, it was in danger of dying a cruel death on the sidewalk, never fulfilling its purpose as a cool summer delight.

I've sampled several flavors of Zarlengo's Italian ice over the years. The tart lemon, mouthwatering strawberry, zesty pink lemonade and flavor explosion of Double Berry all satisfy and delight; however, Oranges 'n' Creme goes one step beyond. Creamy and smooth, with the texture of cool milk, it simply speaks of a hot summer night under the stadium lights, the smell of cut grass, beer and onions interwoven and dancing the air, the crack of ash against a leather-bound rubber ball. When I think of summer, Zarlengo's always makes an appearance.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Summer on a spoon

I love summer. Perhaps being born in June predisposed me to enjoy the warm weather and bask in the summer sunshine. Whatever the reason, I love it. One of my favorite things about summer is fresh produce, either grown in our garden or picked up at a farmstand. Even produce from the grocery store just seems better in the summer.

Over the weekend, Mom and I went grocery shopping and picked up a good sized watermelon. Is there a more classic summer experience than the crunch of a crisp yet juicy slice of watermelon as it dribbles down your chin? I decided to experiment, since it wouldn't all fit in the large Lock & Lock in which I was storing it.

The result, a somewhat difficult to serve, but easy to make, frozen treat, did not disappoint.

Raspberry Watermelon Shaved Ice

  • 4 c of watermelon, pureed
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1-2T lime juice
  • 1/2t natural raspberry extract*
  • 3t Half & Half
  • 2T cornstarch

*you can omit/change this, I just had some and thought I'd try it

  1. In a saucepan, combine all but the watermelon
  2. Cook on low heat until you have a smooth liquid, do not boil
  3. Add watermelon and allow to cool
  4. Pour into an appropriate container and freeze
  5. SCRAPE, S C R A P E, S C R A P E this cool frozen treat into a dish and enjoy!

If you're going have time to check on it, you can probably catch the ice in a less than rock hard, frozen solid state which make for easier serving.

When I finally got to eat it, this was well worth the wait, and the scraping. When I eat watermelon, I can almost taste the warm rain and recall the smell of fresh cut grass. Raspberries evoke the feeling of sun warming my face and soft summer breezes blowing through my hair. Combining them, especially frozen, results in concentrated summer on a spoon.

How can a plate be full of love?

Some food is beautiful. The colors and lines of the dish call to the observer, beckoning them to take a closer look. The soft murmurs of a "meat 'n' potatoes" dinner, the bold cry of cilantro lime chicken nestled in among black beans and corn, each meal tells a story.

Our food tells the story of our lives. In days gone by, wives and mothers spent most of the day preparing the meals that nourished their families. Bread came from the oven, produce from the garden and meat from a local butcher. Meals meant sitting with loved ones, resting your body and mind from the labors of the day and feeding your appetites, both physical and spiritual. No one would have dreamed of eating cold leftovers from a foam container while standing over a sink and checking email.

A meal contains not just meat or produce, not just herbs or spices, but love. The love of a parent for a child, one partner for another, or the love of one's self echo from our plates and forks. The care with which we feed ourselves and our loved ones speaks volumes of our love. The most satisfying moment of a meal I've prepared for my family is not when I sit down to eat it, but when I see the look of contentment on their faces for the simple joys of eating. I love to cook and I cook for love.

We are not loving our bodies, minds and souls when we mindlessly shovel forkful after forkful, handful after handful of fried, artificially flavored, sugar laden processed foods into them. We are not loving our bodies when our every meal is made by someone in a polyester uniform and handed to us through a window.

Somewhere along the line we forgot that food can not only stop the grumbling in our stomachs, but can awaken our senses, take us back to favorite childhood memories, allow us to glimpse the warm sunshine and gentle rain from which it sprang.

Some food is beautiful, but all food can nourish our entire being, if we would just slow down and allow it.