Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eating my way through Asheville, NC.

Asheville, North Carolina: where all the cool kids go. We recently (okay, maybe it was recently when I started this post, but I've had some serious writer's block) spent 5 days (4 nights) in Asheville, NC. It was my first real gluten free vacation. I'm happy to say that Asheville is a lovely place to travel gluten free. God bless all the gluten free and vegan hippies of Asheville, because everywhere we went either had a GF menu or was willing to accommodate (I'm not vegan, but I've noticed that once people are used to feeding vegans they easily transition to feeding celiacs). Granted, I did some research before hand, but the number of restaurants we had to choose from was impressive. Also, we were on a fairly tight budget. We wanted to do a lot of stuff, so we tried to be as frugal as possible on food. We stopped at the grocery and packed picnic lunches for a of our days out. The grocery there, Ingles, had a good salad bar and a decent selection of GF snacks.

Kathmandu Cafe (Himalayan Cusine) was so good we ate there twice. The first night we had dinner there and were pleasantly surprised to find that nearly everything on the menu was gluten free. We had a potato cake appetizer and two different lamb dishes. They grind the spices (imported from Nepal, Tibet, and India) fresh for each dish. On our way out, we found that they had an all you can eat lunch buffet for less than $9. We knew that we'd have to come back for that. The buffet was mostly chicken and vegetarian dishes, which were all excellent, but not the show stoppers that the dinner items were.

Homegrown was so good we would have eaten there at least twice if we'd had more time. It is definitely on my list for when we get back to Asheville... oh, and we'll be back. The menu is written up on a chalk board and everything is... you guessed it... home grown. I had grilled trout with a tomato basil aioli and cheesy grits. I love cheesy grits. The entrees here were under $10 and reasonable portioned. The atmosphere is casual and cozy, and I really fell in love with the place.

Luella's BBQ was our last meal in Asheville. It was so good that I wanted to bring back a 5 gallon bucket full of brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. Ben got the ribs, and it was the first time I'd seen ribs actually fall off the bone. The place was packed with locals, and we had to wait quite a while for a table... but it was well worth the wait. They had a number of GF sides to choose from but I had to go with the classics, slaw and beans. The prices here were unbelievably good for the portion sizes. I would say this is another must-stop for anyone going to Asheville.

Our most spendy dinner was at the Biltmore. We spend a day and a half at the Biltmore and loved every minute of it. It was far better than either of us even expected. I highly recommend a trip to the Biltmore... just make sure you give yourself plenty of time! I'm not sure what I was expecting, but we got an historic/museumlike experience, an outdoor hike through some magnificent gardens (including a 15 acre azalea garden), a farm visit, and a wine tasting. After all that, we were ready to eat! We ate at the Bistro, which was located near the winery. We had a lovely shrimp and scallop ceviche to start, and then, the best bison burgers we've ever had. The bison were locally raised, and I seriously can't imagine a better tasting burger. Mine was sans bun, but really, I think a bun would have just distracted from the awesomeness that was the burger.

One of the biggest shockers about our food experience on this trip was how few sweets we ate. We didn't have dessert most nights. I had some fresh fruit at the hotel, and that was all my usually incurable sweet tooth needed. On the night we did splurge for some sweets, we stopped into this chocolate store downtown called the Chocolate Fetish. They had a GF menu and tons of selections. I was very pleased with my selection of a pistachio dark chocolate frog and ancient pleasures truffle. In looking up their web site to link to for this post, I see that they  ship... though I think I'd rather use the excuse to go back to Asheville!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

S'more Brownies? Yes, please.

Last week at work, we had a department picnic. Being new to the department, I wasn't sure how that would go for the gluten free folks, so I planned to attend the picnic for the social time and eat food from home in my office. Thanks to some gluten free co-workers, I had gluten free hot dogs on Udi's buns for the main event and chocolate chunk macaroons for dessert. It really didn't bother me this time around to be surrounded with food I couldn't eat. Instead, one dessert in particular inspired me. 

I had heard the buzz about s'more brownies a while ago, and while intrigued, I was never motivated to try them. After seeing them in person, however, I had to give it a whirl. I got the recipe from the lovely lady who made them, and it would have been easy to convert the original recipe to gluten free. However, because A. I didn't have a ton of time this weekend and B. I didn't need to have 35 brownies in my house, I improvised.

I got a box of Smoreables gluten free "graham" style cookies, the Gluten Free Pantry brownie mix, and a bag of marshmallows and went to work. I greased and 8 by 8 glass pan with butter and placed a layer of Smoreables on the bottom. I mixed the brownies as directed and spread that over the Smoreables. I baked the brownies as instructed on the box and, when they were done, topped them with marshmallows. I put them under the broiler for about 30 seconds until they were toasty but not burned. I caught mine at the last possible minute. They toasted faster than I expected!

The result was a sweet, sticky, delicious treat (exactly how a s'more should taste). They were too sweet and sticky for Ben's taste, but my friend and I enjoyed them. I'm glad I didn't make the 9 x 13 sized batch... I couldn't stay out of them!

So, for an easy sweet treat that looks impressive, tastes delicious, and takes less than an hour (including baking time) keep these in mind. I know I'll be contributing a batch to the fall cookouts I attend!

Note: These are a disaster to cut when they are still warm. You won't want to, but you really should wait until they are room temperature (or really close to it). 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tastes Like... Sunshine and Lemonade!

Last month I FINALLY made it to Cherbourg Bakery in Bexley. They've been on my radar for months now, but Bexley might as well be in another state considering how seldom I'm in that part of town. I can tell you, though, that after my trip to Cherbourg, I'll be trekking to Bexley more often!

This place has been getting great reviews and is known for their lemon bars. I've never been a huge fan of lemon bars, but I had to try them. If you'd like to see pictures of all the amazing tasty treats I'm about to describe, go to the Cherbourg Bakery Web site (see the link above). We took a couple pics but they don't do the goodies justice... and the Web site is beautiful, so you should go there anyway. (And order some treats online while you're there!)

Back to the lemon bars: I can only describe the taste as "sunshine and lemonade." When I told my family this, my dad responded with "I didn't know sunshine had a taste." Well, it does and it's delicious.

Besides the lemon bars, I can personally vouch for the sugar cookies with buttercream icing (perhaps the best buttercream icing ever), the madeleines (inexplicably good), the parmesan biscuit/rolls (savory goodness), and the carrot muffins. If you live near or pass through Bexley/Columbus/Ohio, I'd say it is worth visiting this little bakery. Be warned though... they seem to sell out, so don't wait until they're about to close!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me.

I recently celebrated my birthday... and by "celebrated," I mean "ate a lot of really awesome food." In all of my birthday gluttony, I managed to avoid being glutened.... a happy birthday indeed.

It started the weekend before my birthday with gluten free birthday pie. My mom took my technique for GF pie crust to the next level. The word Ben used for it was "epic." I'm not sure I have ever heard about a pie being described as "epic," but that's an accurate descriptor for that rhubarb masterpiece. I'd show you a picture of it, but I forgot to take one.

Then, Ben took me out for my fancy b-day dinner at G. Michael's Bistro. We'd never been there before, but the menu looked amazing. They had a gluten free menu; it looked like a lot of their menu items were naturally gluten free. The server was knowledgeable, and I never once felt uneasy about the gluten status of the food. For that alone, I'd go back in a heartbeat. The food was all that I had hoped it would be. The hardest part was deciding what to have! We sat outside on the patio and had a lovely evening. We had the mussels and shrimp cocktail. Ben had a duo of fowl, which was a duo of delicious. I had the halibut with fiddle ferns, purple potatoes, and asparagus salad. The big surprise, I loved the fiddle head ferns! I kicked myself for not picking any while I was out hiking this spring.

I finished out birthday week by spending an evening in the kitchen with my birthday presents: a kitchen scale, a cookbook, and a doughnut pan. From the cookbook, The Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, I made the veal goulash. I made it with ground beef instead of veal, and canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones because the fresh ones are still out of season. The result was still delicious! 

I also made sugar and spice doughnuts. I used the kitchen scale to weigh out the flours (using the Gluten Free Girl's all purpose flour ratios). I used the recipe from Cooking for Isaiah (still one of my favorite cookbooks). Then, I had my first fresh gluten free doughnut. ever. YUM!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Check Out Those Buns!

Yes, those are gluten free hot dog buns... No, I did not make them. I paid a ridiculous amount for four buns  getting the Kinnikinnick Tapioca buns from the frozen foods section at Kroger.

Since I've been gluten free, I've had hot dogs in a bun one other time, and the buns got crumbly and soggy and were not very tasty. The other day was perfect hot dog weather, and I wanted to eat mine on a bun, with onions, relish, ketchup, and mustard, like a grown up (not cut up on a plate like a toddler; also, Mom's veg relish doesn't stay on the dog as well without the bun). So, I went to Kroger and got what they had... and they were good. 

I fixed the plate you see in the picture and was super excited about the prospect of hot dogs on buns. The buns felt a bit dense, but they were doing an excellent job of holding all of my toppings in place. They were soft, moist, and not crumbly or soggy. I was sure I'd found a winner. And in the category of taste, I had.

However, after I had eaten two hot dogs with buns, I felt full. REALLY full. Kind of like I'd eaten a brick. That's when I decided to check out the nutrition facts. Now, I'm always preaching about how GF foods (especially baked goods) are higher in fat and calories than the regular versions. But while basking in the glow of the prospect of buns, I didn't bother to read the nutrition facts. I was eating hot dogs for dinner, and I wasn't going to worry about things like calories... but I was still caught off guard when I did read the label. In one GF bun, there were 225 calories and 7.5 grams of fat! Regular buns have about 110 calories per bun and and 1.5 grams of fat. No wonder the GF ones were delicious!

Now, I don't expect a meal based on hot dogs to be an exceptionally healthy one, but wow; there has to be a better option. I hear Udi's has GF hot dog buns now, but I've not found them in the store, and I don't know how killer their nutrition facts are. And I suppose I could make my own buns sometime... but in the mean time, it looks like I'll got back to eating my hot dogs with a knife and fork (and a spoon for Mom's relish on the side!).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Featured post!

I'm very excited to have my most recent post featured on SparkPeople.com's Daily Spark! Check out the link below, and when you're done reading my post check out some of the other awesome blogs and articles!

A Gluten for Punishment on SparkPeople.com!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Big Bad Gluten

Going gluten-free? Have you ever wondered if you should go gluten-free? You might have heard about gluten in the news and media, or seen gluten-free labels on the products in the grocery store, or known someone who went gluten free. In honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about some gluten-free basics. 

I’ve been living gluten free for more than two years now. Like many people, I was less than thrilled with my diagnosis. I remember crying over my beautiful dinner of grilled salmon and steamed rice because all I wanted was a piece of bread. Initially, I even rebelled against my diagnosis and binged on pizza, which I soon regretted. Once the reality sank in that I could actually feel good by eating the right foods, I never looked back. 

What is gluten, anyway? First, let’s talk about what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in some grains, particularly in wheat and its close relatives: barley, rye, and spelt. These grains and their derivatives are off limits to anyone on a gluten-free diet. Oats are usually contaminated because they are processed alongside gluten-full grains. Specially processed gluten-free oats are available, but some people still have gluten-like reactions to them. (I’m one of those lucky ones!)

There are a lot of misconceptions about gluten and the gluten-free diet. Whenever I meet a new group of people, I find myself educating them and debunking some of those ideas. But I do love to talk about food and nutrition and being gluten free. It’s a good thing, too, because whenever I go to a new restaurant I have to give “the spiel.” It goes a little something like this:
Me: “Hi! I have Celiac disease and cannot consume gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. [etc]…Do you have a gluten-free menu, or can you make some menu suggestions for foods that would be safe for me to eat?”
Server: “Ummm… so you can’t have sugar, right?”
(This really happened. More than once. I ate lettuce at those places… or didn’t eat at all. Some things are not worth the risk.)

It's not a fad diet. Some people believe that “going gluten free” is a fad diet, like going low-carb. What those people don’t realize is that the gluten-free diet is a medically prescribed diet for the treatment of Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of gluten creates a reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed.
Other people believe that because Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance don’t result in anaphylactic reactions that it isn’t serious. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Celiacs who continue to consume gluten, either by choice or by accident, are at risk for intestinal cancers, infertility, malnutrition, and a host of other ailments. Not as much is known about the disease processes involved with gluten intolerance, but anyone with it will tell you that the pain, discomfort, and other side effects that come with gluten consumption are just not worth it. Symptoms of Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance can vary, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 1 in 133 Americans is affected. 

Feeding the belief that the gluten-free diet is a phase or a fad is the idea that following a gluten-free diet is inherently healthier than eating normally. Now, if your “normal” diet is fast food and cookies, and your gluten-free diet is whole foods, mainly fruits and vegetables, then yes, the gluten-free diet is healthier. But, just because a food is gluten free doesn’t mean that it is healthier than its gluten-full counterpart. Do you know how they get gluten-free cookies to taste good? They add copious amounts of sugar and fat. Gluten-free “sandwich” bread can have up to twice as many calories per slice as “regular” bread.  Your gluten-free diet can be as healthful or as unhealthful as any gluten-full diet. Eating whole, unprocessed foods is important to good health regardless of your gluten status.

Think about all the food you CAN eat. In my gluten-free journey, I’ve come to appreciate the foods that are naturally gluten free, such as fish, meat, vegetables, quinoa, millet, rice, fruit, etc.  Vegetables are naturally gluten free. If you were looking for a reason to eat more vegetables… there you go! Think about a trip to your local farmers' market. On the gluten-free diet, you'll have to pass up the baked goods, but that's about it. Right now I can get meat, eggs, cheese, lettuce, strawberries, radishes, asparagus, spinach, carrots, rhubarb, honey, maple syrup, and more. That doesn't sound like a diet of deprivation to me!

Surround yourself with support. If you think that you might have a gluten problem, I encourage you to talk to your doctor. I suffered for years because I stayed with a doctor who was satisfied with the diagnosis of “stress and IBS.” When I finally went looking for answers to my IBS, I found a doctor who listened and did the extra tests to confirm my gluten issues.  And if someone in your life is gluten free, educate yourself! My friends and family that have made it a priority to learn about Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance have been a huge part of my support system. A good friend who has a gluten-free food area at her party so that you don't have to worry about cross-contamination is worth her weight in gold!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bean Burgers

I've been searching for a good bean burger recipe ever since I went gluten free. I've tried a lot of recipes, but never found one that 1. stuck together into an actual burger shape or 2. tasted like something that didn't need drowned in ketchup or bbq sauce or 3. didn't destroy my kitchen and take too way to long to make.

Finally, at last, I have success!

I adapted this recipe from one a gluten-free, vegan recipe I found on Spark People. If you're looking for a free Web site to help you track calories and exercise, make goals, and overall support a healthy lifestyle, I recommend trying out sparkpeople.com. I haven't used the social parts of the site, but so far, I like what I've seen.

But back to the good stuff... bean burgers. So far I've made them with pinto beans and black beans. I plan on trying a white bean version soon. The first time I made them, they were good. The second time, I knew I had a hit. I was more methodical in my preparation of the second batch, so those are the ingredients and proportions I'll list here.

Now, don't think you're going to fool anyone that these are "the real thing" ...but I never thought that was the point of bean burgers... to me, bean burgers are just a delicious way to eat more veggies.

Gluten-free bean burgers
2 cups beans, canned or boiled, drained
1 egg
1/2-1/3 cup finely chopped veggies (I throw onion, 2 cloves garlic, and 2 small carrots in the food processor and chop until finely processed,)
1 cup crushed Rice Chex
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon smoked chipotle pepper

1. Crush the Rice Chex in the food processor and set aside. You'll need about 1 cup crushed.
2. Add the spices to the crushed cereal.
3. Process the veggies in the food processor (minus beans) until finely chopped.
4. Combine beans, egg, and processed veggies in a small bowl. Put 3/4 of this mixture back into the food processor and blend until the beans are smooth. Add back to the small bowl and mix.
5. Add the crushed cereal and mix until it starts to come together. It will still be pretty wet.
6. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
7. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
8. Form 6 patties of bean mixture and place them evenly on the baking sheet. They will be wet and stick, so keep your hands damp to make it all easier to handle.
9. Bake for about 30 minutes until the burgers are firm.
10. Eat. (They're especially good with taco sauce and sour cream.)

For my batch of white bean burgers I'm planning on using rosemary, oregano, and basil for the spices and adding some sun-dried tomatoes to the onions, garlic, and carrot. I think it will make a delicious "pizza burger."

Friday, April 22, 2011

True Love.

True Love is... when your husband goes to Toledo and brings back baked goods from the best GF bakey.
True Love is... when he did this without you asking him or even knowing that he did.
True Love is... a chocolate cupcake that you devour, a coconut macaroon that you share, and a loaf of bread for crusty grilled cheese and warm soup on a cold and wet April night.

True Love is delicious!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chocolate Cake

Before last night, I couldn't tell you the last time I made a chocolate cake. I am not sure why, but it never seems to be the thing at the top of my list for baking. However when surfing through some food blogs the other day I found this recipe. I couldn't get this recipe out of my head, and I knew that I had a most if not all of the ingredients in my cupboard. So last night I got out my food processor and my Kitchen Aid and decided to give it a go.

Once I got started, I realized that I didn't quite have all the ingredients, so my recipe ended up looking more like this:

1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
5 tbsp cocoa powder
3 eggs
1/4 cup nonfat yogurt
1/4 cup skim milk
4 squares Baker's semi-sweet chocolate (melted)
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup butter (room temperature)
1 cup pitted prunes
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch spring form pan
Mix all the dry ingredients (flours and powders) together with a whisk and set aside.
Melt the chocolate and allow to cool slightly. Watch out that it doesn't burn in the microwave!
Mix the butter and prunes in a food processor, and transfer to a mixer.
Slowly add in the melted chocolate and maple syrup into the mixture.
Then add in each egg individually, alternating with the dry ingredients. Beat well between each addition.
Mix the yogurt and milk together, then add to the batter slowly. Mix until well combined.
Drizzle the vanilla into the mix.
This mixture will yield a fairly stiff batter.
Spoon into a well greased tin, and bake for about 30 minutes until firm to the touch. It took mine about 35 minutes.

The result is a rich, moist, not-too-sweet chocolate cake you can eat without feeling too bad about. I think this cake would be perfect with some fresh fruit and maybe a touch of whipped cream. I will definitely be making it again. If you're thinking... "Prunes? How could that be good?" Trust me. It's delicious.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Peeps are gluten free.

Easter candy has always been my favorite candy. In high school and college I would occasionally eat so much of it in one sitting that I'd make myself sick. I probably would now if I thought I could get away with it.

My favorite are Cadbury Creme Eggs. I also love the Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs. Peanut butter tends to bother me, so I stay away from those now. The Easter colored M&Ms even taste better than their year-round counterparts. And the epitome of Easter candy? Peeps.

I recognize that Peeps are barely considered food. I've read the label. I know that they won't decay if I leave them sitting out on my counter until next Easter. But I don't feel like it's really Spring until I've had a package of peeps. So tonight was the night. I picked up some bright yellow peeps (they taste better than the pink ones), chicks (not bunnies, those aren't as good), and dug in. I attempted to take some pictures of them in their adorableness, but I couldn't get the lighting right... then I couldn't stop eating them.

I know that Peeps are gluten free because it says so on the label. Most candy isn't so cut and dry. The ingredients might be okay, but then there's the issue of cross contamination. That's why I check www.myglutenfacts.com for the low down on all my Easter candy.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Challenge Accepted!

Gluten free pie crust is intimidating. No one says they have an "easy" way to make it. If you read a lot of GF blogs, or if you've ever tried it yourself, you know that gluten free pie crust is a beast to handle. It sticks, it crumbles, it breaks, and cracks, and you have to keep it really cold, and roll it out between parchment paper or plastic wrap. And after all that, you cross your fingers and hope it turned out. 

I experienced that madness once. That was enough. I used the Gluten Free Pantry pie crust mix, and it was a challenge. It was not a total failure, but I haven't really made a really good pie since going GF... UNTIL TONIGHT!

Ben and I watch a lot of cooking shows on PBS. We don't have cable (who needs cable when the rabbit ears give you 3 whole channels of PBS?) so we don't watch the food network or any of those "fancy" cooking shows. One of our favorite shows is America's Test Kitchen. A few weeks ago we were watching them make a pastry style dough. They said to use alcohol (vodka or tequila) as part of the liquid to get a flaky crust. The alcohol helps moisten the dough, but evaporates at a lower temperature than water. They also cautioned that over working the dough could activate too much of the gluten and make it tough and not light and flaky.

All of this congealed in my brain over the past few weeks, and I had an idea. Part of the reason GF pie crust is hard is because it is crumbly. Also, there seems to be this general idea that you should treat it more or less like regular pastry dough. I threw the ideas that you shouldn't handle the dough too much and that adding liquid was bad out the window. I mixed up a batch of the Gluten Free Pantry pie crust mix as directed and threw it in the fridge to chill.

When I pulled it out it was unmanageable as expected. I broke off a chunk that was rock hard and crumbly at the same time. I started kneading it on my pastry mat and sprinkled in some vodka. I added vodka and dusted the mat with sweet rice flour and corn starch as needed until I had a dough I could work with. I rolled it out with my rolling pin on the mat and after finessing it onto the rolling pin for transfer, got it into the pie pan. I had to patch up some holes, but so far this is going much better that I had anticipated.

Pie #1 was going to be a single-crust chocolate pie. I put the crust in the oven and it baked up beautifully. I used the following recipe (adapted from homesicktexan). I imagine this is pretty close to my grandma's chocolate pie. 

Chocolate Pie Filling
4 heaping tablespoons of Hershey's cocoa 
2/3 cups of sugar
5 tablespoons of corn starch
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups of milk (I used 2%)
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 tablespoon of butter

Put everything through the egg yolks into a sauce pan and wisk until there are no lumps (this gave my arm a workout). Once it is blended, heat over med-low heat until it begins to simmer and thicken. Mine thickened in a hurry once it warmed up. Once it is thick, remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla. stir periodically as it is cooling. While it's cooling, make a meringue. I used 3 egg whites in my meringue. Once the crust and the filling were mostly cooled, I assembled the pie and popped it in the hot oven for 10 minutes to brown the meringue. 

Isn't it pretty?!

Pie #2 is a double crust blueberry pie. It's not as picture perfect, but it's pretty for a double crust gluten free pie.

The top crust was a little tricky, but the cornstarch and vodka made it much more manageable. I used the filling recipe from the Joy of Baking web site: blueberries, cornstarch, sugar, and lemon juice. 

I had enough dough left over for a small cinnamon roll that is tucked away in the freezer for an easy treat another day.

So, it looks good. Does it taste good? Yes. I am saving the chocolate pie for a get together tomorrow, but I dug into the blueberry pie. Delish. The crust was buttery and flaky and light. The filling was not too sweet and bursting with blueberries. 

I don't think it will be so many months before my next GF pie this time. Thanks, America's Test Kitchen!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beware the Cross Contamination

I spent the last week feeling crappy. My gut was unhappy. I had a cold coming on. I worked late a lot of nights and didn't go to the gym. Whenever I have the angry gut and sore throat combo I start to wonder if I've been getting some gluten somewhere.

All of this started after my night at the Mellow Mushroom. I can't say for sure that their gluten free pizza wasn't really gluten free, but I realized that I took it on blind faith that it was. I didn't ask any questions about precautions they took to ensure that there was no cross contamination in the toppings or in the oven. I don't think there are any legal obligations that a restaurant has to ensure that their gluten free items are truly gluten free. I know of one pizza place in particular that carries gluten free pizza. I ate there on a regular basis until I found out that they clean everything at the end of the night by blowing the surfaces with compressed air. Gluten blows all around and the toppings, sauces, and utensils are not necessarily covered. There's certainly no guarantee that cross contamination doesn't happen there. I don't know that I ever got sick from eating that pizza, but I no longer feel confident doing so.

At my house, I am the crumb police. I have issued a war on crumbs, and everything, from where we store the gluten-full toaster to what cutting boards are okay to use, has a rule. When a gluten free person and a gluten full person share a kitchen, certain rules have to exist. For example:
1. No gluten shall touch my stoneware (it is porous, and porous materials hang on to gluten).
2. Any gluten-full crumbs must be wiped up immediately and the towel thrown in the wash. Just brushing them onto the floor doesn't count. Use cleaner.
3. Clean the counters before you lay a slice of GF bread on them. Better yet, always use a clean plate.
4. We don't have a dishwasher, so gluten-full dishes get washed AFTER the gluten free ones. Then the dish rag gets run through the washing machine.
5. No wooden utensils. If they come in contact with gluten once, they are never truly gluten free (they are porous and soak up the gluten).
6. Wash your hands after touching gluten-full food. (Dog treats included.)

This is just a handful of the rules around my kitchen that make my food safe for me to eat. I wonder if restaurants with gluten-free menus have rules to keep the food safe. I'm sure that some do. Some chefs are highly educated and aware of food sensitivities (gluten and others). They are the ones that know their ingredients and can tell you everything that is in the food that they prepare.

Ming Tsai, of the PBS cooking show Simply Ming is my hero in this area. On his web site he has a page dedicated to food allergies. He is a spokesperson for FAAN, The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. FAAN is an organization dedicated to making it safe for people with food allergies to eat out. It is one of my dreams to make it to Boston someday to eat at Ming's restaurant Blue Ginger.

Celiac disease isn't a food allergy, it's an autoimmune disease. But, as inconvenient and scary as it is to know the health risks I incur if I eat gluten, I don't have to worry about immediate death upon eating the offending food. Still, getting "glutened" isn't okay. It does has serious long term (and short term) affects on my health. It's up to me to ask the right questions and to know what I'm eating.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mellowing out at Mellow Mushroom

Beer and Pizza. The Holy Grail of the Celiac. There are several places around Columbus where you can enjoy a cold one and a slice for that occasional night of carb-filled debauchery. Tonight, we tried a new one. Mellow Mushroom.

I have fond memories of Mellow Mushroom from my gluten-full days. Ben and I had our first encounter with the 'Shroom on our honeymoon in Charleston, S.C. It was the best pizza we had ever eaten. Then, about a year ago, one opened in Columbus. Fast forward to 2011 when I found out that they have gluten free pizza! We finally made it there tonight to give it a try.

Now, the gluten free pizza there is not as earth-shattering as the slice I had in Charleston, but it is pretty darn good. It is unique, and the crust has a soft crisp bite, but is not what I'd call crispy. They also carry Bard's sorghum beer. It was a delicious combo.

Part of what I enjoy about Mellow Mushroom is the atmosphere. Where else can you go for a pizza in the Columbus suburbs where Dancing Bears adorn the walls and the drink special costs $4.20 and is called "Grateful Dead"?


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Re-learning my way around the kitchen

I've been very fortunate to have a husband who has spent a great deal of the last six months cooking for me. Sure, I've made some things here and there, but for the most part, the kitchen has been his domain. Well, this weekend he went back to work. As part of his transition back to work, he's supposed to take it easy at home.

So, I got up on Saturday morning with the plan to make a delicious breakfast and lunch for him. For breakfast I planned to make a gluten free version of my mom's blueberry cream muffins. The recipe makes a ton of muffins, so I was planning on having these all week.

Given my past successes with adapting muffin recipes, I thought this would be a no-brainer. I was wrong. The muffins burned. The bottoms and sides were black, even though the tops were a nice golden brown. I baked them at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (which is what the recipe said) and it was too much for too long. I put two muffin tins in the oven at the same time, so that meant two of three batches were burned. And that the house smelled like burning. I turned down the oven to 350 and baked the third tray for 15 minutes. They came out much better. But still not mom's. The didn't really rise, and were kind of tough if you ask me. Ben liked them, but I'm fairly convinced he'll eat anything if there are blueberries in it. And he didn't really expect them to taste like my mom's.

After that debacle, I moved on to lunch. On the menu: bean burgers with rice and broccoli. I have had trouble in the past with bean burgers. They seem so simple, but when it comes time to cook them, mine crumble and break and stay soft. So I thought I would bake them. After baking them for a while, I realized that they were not getting firm, or crisp, or anything but hot. So Ben suggested I finish them up by frying them. I went this route and ended up with a crumbly, breaking mess in a smoking skillet. I gave up. Ben made himself some black bean roll ups with some leftovers.

Now, I'll admit that I do not have a good recipe for gluten free bean burgers, so I improvise. I'll also admit that when I've been away from the kitchen for a while, my improvisation skills are diminished. It takes me a while to find my footing again.

So last night, I made two dinners for us to eat over the next few days. I made a small pan of Mexican lasagna and tried a new soup recipe. The soup was from my newest cookbook The Potato and Rice Bible. I purchased this cookbook after my Saturday morning fails sent me to Half-Price Books looking for something to help me find my way back to "good cook" status.

I love the idea of this cookbook. Potatoes and rice are inexpensive gluten-free staples. Most of the recipes are gluten free by nature, but some do require some tweaking. The recipe I made last night required no tweaking: Chorizo and Kale soup. I did substitute some ingredients that I didn't have (beef broth for vegetable broth and smoked sausage for chorizo), but I think I preserved the integrity of the soup. Ben had a bowl when he came home from work and he was seriously impressed with it. I think it will be in my regular rotation from here on out. Success! Now if only I could conquer the bean burger... 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hot soup on a cold night

I have been on a soup kick this winter. Usually, when I think of soup, I think of lots of chopping, a LONG cooking time, and feeling hungry after I've eaten. This winter I've fallen in love with hearty, warm soups like chili, black bean soup, vegetable noodle soup, and tonight's corn chowder.

I've been spending a lot of time with the cookbook "Cooking for Isaiah" by Silvana Nardone this month. Mostly because it has accessible recipes that don't require special trips to the store or spending all night in the kitchen. Tonight I made the corn chowder from the book. I made a few tweaks, but that's another thing I love about soups. The recipe provides the base, and the rest is improvisation. I doubled the recipe so we'd have plenty of leftovers, added a clove of garlic and some smoked paprika, and used frozen corn.

One of the main draws of this recipe is the fact that it is dairy free, and doesn't use any soy or fake-dairy substitutes. The soup gets it's creaminess from white beans and potatoes. The beans also add fiber and protein to make this soup healthier than a traditional chowder. I don't have a problem with digesting dairy, but I do have the tendency to treat sour cream as a side dish, and I add cheese to everything. I love dairy, but I also know that I probably shouldn't eat as much as I do. I considered adding sour cream and cheese to the top of this soup... until I tasted it. It was perfection without the added fat and calories. I'll save those calories for dessert.

The other draw of this recipe is that it was fast. And easy! I had time to come home from work, throw together the soup, leave Ben to watch it simmer, go to yoga, and come home to delicious, creamy corn chowder. Not bad for a Monday night!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bread, with a stand mixer

Last July I went on  a quest for good homemade bread. I had some success, but determined that I really needed a stand mixer to handle some of the heavier dough. Well, I got a stand mixer for Christmas! So, for the past few weeks I've been looking for opportunities to make things that require a stand mixer.

I made two different kinds of bread, similar to my bread-making night in July. The first was the King Arthur Flour bread mix. Talk about easy, lovely bread. The bread is buttery and soft, with just a hint of flakey crust from the butter I brushed over the top. It rose beautifully, and with the Kitchen Aid to do all the work, it was a cinch!

The second loaf is the white-bean "grainless" recipe from a friend. When I tried this recipe before, the dough was totally unmanageable, engulfed my hand mixer, and resulted in a oddly shaped loaf, despite the loaf pan. The Kitchen Aid certainly took care of that problem. The dough hook took that sticky mess and worked it into a dough I could be proud of. The resulting bread was still just "okay." It wasn't light or fluffy; it didn't rise all that well; and the taste is "good enough." It will be fine as a vehicle for other things, but it's not the kind of bread that makes you believe you could live on a bread and water diet.

And so my quest continues. I can make a delicious loaf of gluten free bread, but it comes at a cost. The next leg of my quest will be to search for a bread recipe that is both easy and inexpensive. At nearly $7 a loaf, the King Arthur Flour mix is only slightly better than the bakery loaf, which runs between $7 and $8. Udi's bread is delicious and can be bought at the local Kroger, but it is in the $6 range as well and is a smaller loaf.

These prices are actually pretty good when you consider that the average increase in cost to go from "regular" to "gluten free" is 300%. I've been fortunate to find most of the things that I need to be gluten free for only twice as much as the "regular" versions.

So for now, good bread will continue to be a bit of a luxury around here, but then, that's probably okay.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cauliflower Comfort Food

When I first went gluten-free, I spent the winter craving warm, cheesy, salty comfort foods. I hadn't found an acceptable GF pasta yet, and couldn't eat rice and beans for every meal, so I got creative.

The following creation was a favorite that first winter. I got the idea from a low-carb friend who make cheesy mashed cauliflower as part of the Atkin's plan. Now, in my attempt to add more veggies to my life, I am bringing it out again. I made it last night and while it is not so pretty, it is delicious! Now, even though it is based on cauliflower, i wouldn't go so far as to say that it is "healthy." It is low-carb friendly, and makes excellent leftovers, and certainly isn't the worst dinner I could think of making. :)

Cauliflower-Sausage Bake

2 large bags of frozen cauliflower
16 ounces sausage (I like to make sure it is MSG free)
1 medium onion chopped
16 ounce container of cottage cheese
16 ounce container of sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Spanish paprika

1. Saute onion in butter in a large skillet until translucent. Add sausage, crumble, and brown.
2. Boil and drain or steam the cauliflower. Use a potato masher to mash up the cauliflower into small pieces.
3. Add the the sausage mixture, cottage cheese, and sour cream to the mashed cauliflower and mix thoroughly.
4. Mix in 1 c of the cheddar cheese.
5. Place the mixture into a 9x5 baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Dust the top with the Spanish paprika.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes (or 375 degrees for 30 minutes if you're in a hurry).

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ringing in the New Year

So, here it is, January 3. The day I was supposed to go back to work. The day I'm supposed to feel like tackling the new year and all its challenges, but instead I'm home sick with a nasty virus. Instead of making resolutions to go to the gym this weekend, I was resolving to get up long enough to refill my water glass, or maybe move from the bed to the couch.

This morning I woke up hungry. For vegetables! After weeks of cookies, cheese, and meat, I knew that I needed to resolve to eat more vegetables this year. Eating vegetables never seems like a problem in July, when all is fresh and green and tastes like sunshine. In the winter, it's a little harder to be inspired. I believe in eating what's in season as much as humanly possible. I have a hard time believing that the tomatoes that have been on a truck for the last 2 weeks before arriving at the local Kroger will have much flavor or nutritional value compared to the tomato from my back yard last summer. So in the winter months, I rely primarily on canned or frozen veggies. I do eat a lot of fresh onions, lettuce, and carrots from the grocery, things that typically don't have to ripen and would have held up well in the basement if I'd had the foresight to put some up for the winter.

So this afternoon, between blowing my nose, washing my hands, and using my neti pot, I made some veggie soup. Here's to hoping that this soothing soup puts me back on the right track.

Sick Day Veggie Soup

1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, cut into small half moons
2 T butter
1c corn (frozen)
1c buttercup squash (frozen, chopped)
1 pint green beans (canned)
8 c cold water
½ package of rice sticks (noodles)
1 bay leaf

1.       Sautee onion, garlic, and carrots in butter in the bottom of a heavy stock pot.
2.       Add remaining veggies, spices, and 8 c cold water.
3.       Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until veggies are just tender, then add rice sticks.
4.       Continue to simmer until rice noodles are tender.
5.       Remove bay leaf before serving.