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Genome map: Better spuds on the way

19 Jul

 

 

 

Genome map: Better spuds on the way.

In a shameless plug for my favorite science news site, Futurity.org posted this article today on one of my loves, potatoes! Tre and I indulge in these spuds multiple times a week, whether we roast them, mash them, fry them (occasionally). While mapping the potato genome may not have immediate implications in my culinary world, it’s cool science…. and I love to see one of my favorites getting some face time!

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And Then There was Pizza

20 Jan

One of the things I asked Tre to think about early on was the Top 5 things he couldn’t live without despite dietary restrictions. Although this sounds like a tedious exercise geared at grimly reminding Tre of all the things he can’t have, it has really become a “to do list” for me in terms of finding viable substitutes for classic favorites. As mentioned before, positive thinking is highly encouraged when adapting to new dietary restrictions and I can say with confidence that in the 4 months since Tre’s official diagnosis, the bereavement process has somewhat stabilized. Nonetheless, the reality is that pizza made the Top 5 list a total of three times so it’s a challenge I’ve grappled with since the beginning.

Coming out of the oven, the grape flour pizza looked alright...

Early on, Tre and I were gifted with pizza crusts that were made by a vineyard in the Niagara region from the leftover grape debris of their fermentation process. The remaining grape skins, seeds, leaves, stems were dehydrated and ground into a stone colored flour and then pre-baked into neat little pizza crusts that were entirely gluten free. The concept was novel and I’d hoped beyond hope that these crusts would not have a strange nuance of fruitiness to them. Not to be brutal in my opinion, but the resulting dish may have been the anti-pizza. Although it looked attractive enough, the crust was flat, dense, and chewy and the overall experience had a pungent air of what I would describe as “footiness” (having to do with feet) both in smell and taste.

This was quite a blow to both my and Tre’s esteem, and having failed so miserably at a first attempt at pizza, I shelved the idea indefinitely.

Then one day while entertaining the organics section at my grocery store, I decided to take a closer look at a few of the “gluten free” flour options available. I’d almost entirely dismissed the gluten free section noting that the majority of these products used rice, soy, and corn as typical additives — all of which are on the “no fly” list for Tre — but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and recheck a few labels. To my surprise, the gluten free “all purpose flour” I’d grabbed was also free of corn, rice, and soy fillers and instead boasted potato starch, sorghum, bean flours, and tapioca among other things all on the clear list for Tre. I ended up buying a 2lb bag with the intent of finding some purpose for it in my cooking.

What I’d purchased was Bob’s Red Mill “Gluten Free All Purpose Flour” and despite lukewarm feelings towards Bob’s almond flour (it was not fun to work with, there, I said it) I decided to give this all purpose flour a shot. A quick visit to the Bob’s Red Mill site and I was able to uncover a myriad of recipes centered around this WCRS-free flour. What I stumbled upon amazed me, namely a recipe for a pizza crust. I couldn’t believe I’d found a crust recipe that was free of all the things Tre couldn’t have and I almost instantly went to work creating what would be his first pizza in over 3 months. The results were excellent and Tre and I were both happy to have a homemade pizza that stood up to the pizzas we used to enjoy.

This is a closeup of the pizza crust. It actually looks legit!

The whole pizza right out of the oven.

Gluten Free Pizza — Adapted from the recipe at Bob’s Red Mill

Pizza Toppings

  • 1 8oz can tomato sauce or other pizza sauce
  • 2 cups all natural mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Optional: pepperoni, onion, peppers, sausage, whatever you like to top your pizza with!

Directions: Be sure to use NON METAL bowls

Couldn't quite get it to spread all the way out on the pizza sheet but this ended up working well enough.

 

  1. In a small bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and water and let stand about 5 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, xanthan gum, and salt. Add egg, oil, and yeast mixture to dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined. Use a hand mixer/blender/food processor or a spoon but be careful not to come into too much contact with the dough as xanthan gum will stick if you mix by hand. Add water by the tsp (no more than 3) to loosen mixture if needed. Allow the dough to sit and rise in a warm room for a half hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a pizza sheet. Scoop the dough onto the pizza sheet and using wet hands and a spoon, spread out into a disk shape and smooth. Patch any holes in the dough.
  4. Cover dough with sauce and toppings to your liking. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until cheese begins to look crispy.

A WCSR-free Thanksgiving

30 Nov

Yes my friends, this is stuffing! Wheat, corn, rice, and soy-free stuffing that looked AND tasted like the real thing!

Yes, Thanksgiving was last week, hence the lack of posts here and general early-winter disarray. Tre and I were off enjoying our first WCRS-free holiday with a surprising amount of success. Thanks to a number of prolific gluten-free bloggers out there as well as some good old fashioned elbow grease and family support, I was able to create a few fun treats for Tre including stuffing, chocolate cake, double chocolate cookies, and gravy for Thanksgiving dinner and dessert.

In an unexpected departure from my normal cooking routine, I packed up my ingredients and trucked across town to my parents’ house (notice in the picture no BLUE counters). I love cooking with my mom and she was super-helpful when it came to turning my almond flour and flax bread into stuffing and was welcome company on my “black Wednesday” trip to the grocery store for forgotten ingredients.

Stay tuned for recipes, but in the meantime, stay warm! Here in NY it’s getting cold!

Food Processor Series: Instant Oatmeal with no Unidentifiable Ingredients

9 Nov

Ground oats with a dash of salt, brown sugar, and cinnamon provide the base for my super quick, super easy instant oatmeal.

Alright, I’ll be the first to admit that my inaugural adventure with the new food processor was fairly anticlimactic. This was mostly out of sheer intimidation. A blade spinning at an excess of 90 mph attached to a motor — heavy enough that I had to take a break while dragging it up the 3 flights of stairs to my apartment — is nothing to be fooled with. That, and a long discarded users manual would be of no help in determining if the jet propelled blade was properly attached and of no threat to my or Tre’s safety. Sadly, these are legitimate concerns and I’m fairly lucky thus far in my life that almost everything I’ve encountered is largely idiot-proof. This food processor is no exception, thank god, and after a dozen false starts I began to figure out how to harness its powers for good in my own kitchen.

Thanks to my mom’s burst of culinary inventiveness last weekend (yielding oat-based “breadcrumbs” we now call Tre’s breading) and the gift of my new KitchenAid, my interest in cooking with processor ground oats was jumpstarted. Tre is not allergic to oats and, in moderation, I’ve been working this grain into our diet as a viable complex carb substitute to whole wheat. Though oats and oat products bear similar stigma as potatoes to carb-free eaters, they prove to be a better choice than simple wheat-based foods. Oats are an excellent source of dietary fiber (hence me pairing “oats” with “moderation,” semantically speaking) and have been linked to heart health, blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, athletic endurance, and even healthy weight loss.

One of my favorite breakfasts has always been oatmeal, instant oatmeal to be specific. The kind that comes out of a wax paper pouch and becomes a meal in a matter of seconds. It’s filling, not too sweet, and has what I consider the quintessential breakfast smell. But when you start to take a critical look at the foods you put in your body, even something as innocuous as instant oatmeal is jam packed with an excess of sweeteners, color enhancers for those little mock-fruit pieces, thickening agents, and stealthily placed allergens: wheat, corn, and soy. With a newly invigorated interest in oats, I wanted to make my own brand of instant oatmeal; one whose ingredients I had complete control over with no ambiguity. Using my food processor to break the oats down a bit helped make the overall texture more creamy and less dense. This simple recipe can be portioned out into ziplock bags and cooked exactly like store-bought instant oatmeal for a quick and easy breakfast.

Here is my instant oatmeal portioned out for 5 days of breakfasts. I used craisins as my fruit.

Instant Oatmeal: Makes 5 individual servings

  • 2-1/2 cups rolled quick oats
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit such as mixed berries, raisins, or craisins
  • 5 ziplock bags or other storage
  • Directions

    1. Combine oats, salt, cinnamon, and brown sugar in food processor. Pulse in short bursts until ingredients combine and oats are ground to a coarse meal. If you prefer a texture more like grits or “cream of wheat,” blend until oats reach a medium-fine texture. Do NOT blend to the point of powder.
    2. With a measuring cup, pour 1/2 cup of mixture into each of 5 ziplock bags or other storage. Add dried fruit, about 2 tbsp per bag. Seal bags and store in a cool, dry area.

    To Prepare Oatmeal

    1. Pour your 1/2 cup portion of oatmeal mix into a heat-safe bowl. Add about 1/2 cup boiling water OR add 1/3 cup water and microwave for 1-2 minutes.

    I like to make this Sunday night and portion it out for breakfast all week. The dried fruit will rehydrate slightly much like the fruit in instant oatmeal but the dish is also very good without the addition of fruit. Sometimes I’ll add a splash of almond milk when I forego fruit for a more creamy texture.

    The Greatest Smashed Potatoes -or- Fear Not The Original Carb

    4 Nov

    Tre making his famous brand of smashed potatoes.

    In the week following Tre’s allergy diagnosis, I decided it would be best to let him have a few treats to keep his mind off things. By treats, I mean NY strip steak, semi sweet chocolate chips out of the bag, any cheese of his choice at the grocery store, and of course his favorite, mashed potatoes. Sure, meals of brie wheels or pound after pound of red meat are not the epitome of healthy, but I can certainly sympathize with emotional eating. I’ve had my fair share of breakups, bad grades, Tuesdays. While the other treats bandaided the wound and quickly dissolved from our regular diet (for both health and logistical reasons), potatoes have made it into the regular rotation several times a week now.

    Potatoes have been stigmatized namely because of the illustrious french fry, which reigns supreme in the quintessential American fast food diet. Following closely behind, the notorious potato chip also seems to be a primary means by which people get their spuds. Both are fried beyond biological recognition and remain a dietary no-no for anyone touting a carbless diet. Even without the grease of frying potatoes into the nutritional equivalents of oil-soaked, salted cardboard, many health-conscious eaters tend to avoid this tuber despite nativeness to the human diet.

    Without getting too scientific, the health benefits of potatoes consumed in moderation (minus the fryer and the fixins’) are on track with such esteemed vegetables as broccoli, spinach, and brussels sprouts and have been linked to cardiovascular health, neurological health, and athletic endurance. Sweet potatoes also boast health benefits that should outweigh the stigma of being a starch. Studies suggest that sweet potatoes are a healthier choice for diabetics as a natural regulator of insulin as well as an alternative to simple carbs from rice and wheat. They are also linked to increased immune system function, respiratory health, and digestive health. Not to mention, both regular potatoes — whose varieties and flavors number into the hundreds — as well as sweet potatoes are filling, delicious, and easy to prepare.

    Red potatoes have become a staple in my kitchen. With a nutrient-rich skin, I never peel them before incorporating in recipes.

    Potatoes have become our go-to carb. Those who have ever tried a WCRS-free (or variation thereof) diet, either by choice or dietary restriction, know that the cravings can become almost unbearable. As a result, we often turn to potatoes to quell the nicotine-like need for household carbs we used to so frivolously enjoy. In this realm, Tre has really stepped up; shaming my single attempt at making a side dish of garlic smashed potatoes and showing me up with a version of his own. Tre’s potatoes take the cake and while they do not have any sort of official recipe, I encourage everyone to give these a try.

    Tre’s Garlic Smashed Potatoes

    • * 4 red potatoes, medium size, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces with skin
    • 1 clove garlic
    • ** Milk/Half&Half/Heavy Cream, between 1/4 and 1/2 cup by preference for consistency
    • 4 tbsp butter, less/more by preference for taste or consistency
    • 1/2 tsp garlic powder, or to taste
    • 1/2 tsp onion powder, or to taste
    • *** Dash of white pepper to taste
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    * For portioning, my rule of thumb is that each uncooked potato will yield slightly more than a single serving of smashed potato
    ** We use half and half in moderation
    *** A rarity in most kitchens, white pepper is an incredible spice with a slightly flavored heat, unique to any spice I’ve ever tried.
    Directions

    1. Heat a large sauce pan of salted water until it reaches a boil. Carefully add your pieces of potato and garlic clove to the boiling water. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will cook but begin to check for softness after about 10 minutes. Test for softness with a fork and strain potatoes with a colander once they are soft enough to be penetrated by a fork. Do not discard garlic clove.
    2. Return the potatoes and garlic clove to your sauce pan over your lowest heat setting. Add butter and begin to smash either with a large fork or potato masher. Once butter has completely melted, begin to add your milk/half&half/cream a little at a time while mashing. Continue to add until potatoes thicken to desired consistency, but not too much that they become watery.
    3. Mash in garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, salt, and black pepper to taste. Add in moderation and sample until you reach a flavor you enjoy.

    The real game changers here are:

    • Boiling the potatoes with a garlic clove or two — a technique that Tre swears by which results in a garlic-infused flavor as well as a softened, cooked clove for easy smashing. If you like the flavor, opt for more fresh garlic cloves and cut out the garlic powder from the recipe.
    • White pepper, mentioned above, has a distinct flavor that I’d never experienced before Tre’s introduction of it through this recipe. Now, it’s become a staple in almost all my cooking for a mild, unique heat perfect for meat seasoning, omelets, even pizza. Try alone by sprinkling a small amount on the back of your hand and tasting for a sense of its standalone flavor but use caution as it can be quite spicy in large quantity.