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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!

Enter Fish into the Rotation: Pecan-Crusted Honey Mustard Salmon

18 Nov

Filets getting ready to be put into the oven. Love that even through the pecan coating, you can still see the bright coloring of the fish.

Aside from the fresh produce section of my local grocery store, I consider the seafood counter to be the most colorful and interesting spot to shop. With cuts of fish ranging in color from snow white to deep scarlet on silvery scales, rocky displays of oysters, thick and gnarled king crab legs, and pastry-like scallops, seafood has a diverse spectrum of flavors and textures that makes for an intriguing choice in the kitchen. Although I am limited by my allergy to shellfish, I love the experience of choosing cuts of fresh fish and preparing them in ways that help them to express the flavors and nuances that make them so pleasantly different from typical meats.

Tre and I are fortunate to have a pescadería to call our own with an expansive and colorful selection of fresh fish as well as a frozen section with ample stock and prepared meals that put some of my creations to shame. Although my local grocery store (a behemoth in the north east that somehow also manages to be personal and superb in quality) has a wonderful spread, I love going to specialty stores especially when it comes to buying fish. I prefer to buy fresh, but frozen fish is a viable sub when you want to buy in large quantities or don’t know exactly when you’ll be able to prepare it.

This week, Tre and I opted for salmon and cod; two mild yet meaty fish that cook quickly and with little effort into phenomenal entrees.  Salmon especially is one of my personal favorites, from small tastes in sushi to whole fish cooked on the grill. With its bold coloring and rich texture, salmon makes a great substitute for red meats while still being filling and maintaing its own unique flavor. Salmon also boasts health benefits being high in protein, Vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

 

Finished! We paired our salmon filets with sweet potatoes.

Unlike chicken and beef which are typically seasoned, marinated, or incorporated into other recipes, I think people struggle with exactly how to prepare fish in interesting ways. For a long time, this deterred me from entering fish into the culinary rotation for fear that I’d end up with something bland or, god forbid, fishy. However, after trying a few unexpected recipes, I began to discover that fish is not only very easy to prepare, but also, with the right treatment, quite a delicacy. One of my first-attempt salmon recipes — which also happens to be wheat, corn, rice, and soy free — quickly became a midweek favorite and has served as a reminder as to why I love cooking with fish.

Pecan-Crusted Honey Mustard Salmon

  • 2 medium sized fresh salmon filets, or thawed frozen filets
  • 1/2 cup shelled pecans
  • Dash garlic powder
  • Dash white pepper
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp mustard (regular/dijon/spicy whichever you prefer)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 lemon sliced for garnish

Honey is so pretty. It's also a fabulous sweetener with its unique flavor.

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place salmon filets in a greased baking dish and set aside.
  2. Combine pecans, garlic powder, and white pepper in a food processor and pulse to a medium coarse powder. If you do not have a food processor, crush pecans in a mortar and pestal a small amount at a time until powdered and combine with garlic and white pepper. You can also place pecans in a plastic bag and roll them with a rolling pin. Whatever gets the job done.
  3. In a small bowl, heat honey for about 15 seconds in the microwave to make it more workable. Be careful not to burn the honey. Combine with mustard. Using a spoon, glaze the salmon filets with the honey mustard mixture then cover with the crushed pecans.
  4. Garnish filets with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon slices and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes per inch of filet thickness. Switch oven to broil and broil filets for about 2 minutes to crisp the topping. Remove and serve.

This recipe also works very well with chicken. If you have skinned cuts of salmon, you can also glaze and pecan-coat the entire filet instead of just the tops for an all around flavor. Paired with mild veggies like green beans or broccoli, this makes for a wonderful and filling dinner.

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.

    Food Processor Series: Tre’s Breading

    9 Nov

    ***Unfortunate Update: Through trial and error Tre and I discovered that he is also unable to eat oats. While Tre can no longer enjoy this breading recipe we made for him, it may still be tolerated by other people with wheat allergies. I’m working on an almond-based substitute which I will post shortly. Hang tight.***

    Last weekend, my mother presented Tre and I with a dry concoction she called “Tre’s breading” intended to replace traditional bread crumbs in cooking. The coarsely ground meal looked almost identical to the traditional Italian bread crumbs you buy at the store, and upon taste test, offered little evidence that it was some sort of substitute. My mom, who is also invested in mine and Tre’s WCRS-free lifestyle, had taken to the pantry and her stockpile of oats to create a viable substitute for this kitchen staple. Using her food processor, she pulsed quick oats with parmesan cheese and various cooking spices into a course ground meal that looked and tasted almost exactly like its wheat-based counterpart.

    Breadcrumbs are one of those ingredient staples that you don’t think about until you realize how happy you are that you magically have them in your pantry the night you decide to make chicken parm. It wasn’t until I couldn’t use breadcrumbs that I realized what a staple they are in my kitchen. From the aforementioned breaded chicken parm, to breadcrumb-thickened meatloaf and meatballs, to a breaded gorgonzola steak topping, crumbs have always been a go-to filler for many of my favorite recipes. With my mom’s clever inception of an oat-based substitute, culinary doors that had once been closed were now reopened for enjoyment.

    Tre's breading getting ready to be a filler for meatballs and a lone turkey burger.

    Tre’s Breading

    • 1 cup rolled quick oats
    • 1 tsp dried oregano
    • 1 tsp dried parsley
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • Dash of crushed red pepper
    • 1 tbsp fresh Parmesan cheese, finely grated
    • Dash of salt

    Adjust spices to taste, this is just my general guideline. I make this breading in increments of 1 cup unless I know I’ll be using a lot in a recipe. Because of the cheese, this must be stored in the refrigerator and has a somewhat limited shelf life.

    Directions

    1. Pour the oats into a food processor and pulse in bursts until it reaches a medium-fine meal. If you do not have finely grated parm, add it with the oats and blend together.
    2. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse a few more times until combined. You do not want to over blend into a fine powder.

    Beef Stew -or- My First Battle With Garbanzo Bean Flour

    21 Oct

    The Monday after finding out about Tre’s allergy was the first time I found myself trying to think of a WCRS-free dinner that I could throw together quickly. The scale of the adjustment has been overshadowed by the fact that Tre and I are knee-deep in grad school and the time commitment there further complicates the care required to cook in this new fashion. I took a mental inventory of all the recipes I knew of and tried to think of something easy that we could have for the rest of the week… and I recalled recently cleaning out my crock pot.

    Crock pot dishes were meant for this time of year when it starts to get cold and everyone’s schedules begin to get more complex. This type of cooking has been my go-to for simple, filling dishes that can be tupperwared and stored for meals throughout the week.

    The first recipe I pulled, of course, required flour for pan searing the meat and thickening the sauce. My first opportunity to ease in the garbanzo bean flour had presented itself. And of course, I would quickly learn that garbanzo bean flour does not respond quite the same as wheat flour.

    Beef Stew: Adapted from Wegmans’ Country-Style Beef Stew

    Finished product waiting to cook overnight in the crock pot.

    • 2 lbs boneless beef cut for stew
    • Garbazno Bean Flour for Pan Searing
    • 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
    • 2 slices Turkey Bacon, cut in 1/4-inch strips
    • 2-1/2 cups baby carrots, whole
    • 4 celery sticks, cleaned and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
    • 5 extra small yellow onions, whole, peeled with root side removed
    • 10-15 extra small red potatoes, cleaned
    • 6 Tbsp Garbanzo Bean Flour
    • 4 cups Beef Culinary Stock
    • 1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes
    You’ll Need: 6-8 qt crock pot

    Directions:

    1. Dust beef with Garbanzo Bean flour.
    2. Heat oil on MEDIUM in large pan. Add beef; brown, turning to brown all sides, 8-10 min. Remove beef; place in crock pot. Add bacon to pan and cook until crisp; place in the crock pot. Discard all but 1 Tbsp drippings from pan.
    3. Add carrots, onion, and celery to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, 4-5 min. Whisk* the remaining Garbanzo Bean flour in 1 cup beef stock until dissolved. Be sure to break up clumps. Pour mixture into the pan with vegetables, stirring to loosen browned bits on bottom of pan. Cook 3-5 min, until liquid is reduced by one-third, to a syrupy consistency; bring to simmer.
    4. Pour broth mixture over beef in slow cooker. Add potatoes and whole tomatoes; stir slightly.
    5. Cover; cook on HIGH for 1 hour and switch to LOW for 6-9 hours.

    As you can see, the Garbanzo Bean flour just kind of sits there.... I'll be mixing it outside the pan next time.

    *I made the mistake of just adding the Garbanzo Bean flour right to the cooking vegetables and quickly realized that it didn’t break up and dissolve quite the same way as regular flour. I think it’s best to pull it aside and break it up by whisking in beef broth before adding. That said, it worked very well for pan searing the meat!

    You can see this recipe was adapted to suit both Tre and my allergies. I subbed in turkey bacon for normal bacon and obviously gave the Garbanzo Bean flour a shot, although it played only a minor role. This gave me some useful insight into how Garbanzo Bean flour behaves, being protein based and less soluble than wheat flour. I’m glad I sampled it in a less-intensive dish before diving in to a more involved recipe using something I’ve never worked with before.

    The stew came out awesome for being such an easy recipe to make and it fed Tre and I for almost a week! As my first deliberate WCRS-free dish, I’m pretty pleased!

    The Switcheroo: Garbanzo Bean Flour

    19 Oct

     

    Bob's Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour

    Bob's Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour

     

    The first thing Tre did when he learned about his allergy to WCRS was take a mental inventory of all his favorite foods that he could no longer eat.

    • Pizza
    • Subs
    • Loaves of bread in general
    • Bagels
    • Wheat Thins

    It’s difficult to tout the power of positive thinking when you’ve been deprived of something you enjoy even if it is “just food.” Tre’s allergy put a substantial bottleneck not only on his list of favorite foods, but also restaurant options, quick & easy meal options, snack options, etc. It wasn’t about losing almost a whole food group from his diet, it was the complication that comes with cutting out some of the most prominent food staples in the western world. I recall similar despair upon learning about my own allergy to pork. The only thought in my head was that I could no longer experience the glory that is bacon.

    While Tre lamented and entered into the 5 stages of grieving, I took to the internet to look for a viable substitute for the most common wheat-product: flour. The most prominent result was almond flour made entirely from ground almonds. Upon locating it my local Wegamans however, it packed a powerful punch in terms of price: $9.99 for a mere 22 oz. Without thinking twice, I grabbed for its shelf mate, an unheard of “Garbanzo Bean Flour” listed at nearly 1/5 the price.

    Garbanzo Flour is made entirely of stone-ground garbanzo beans, or as we affectionately refer to them, chick peas. Garbanzo beans are most famous as the base ingredient for hummus and are a staple in restaurants house salads across the country. Mild and creamy in flavor, garbanzo beans are unoffensive yet distinct. My favorite presentation, fried garbanzo beans are eaten like popcorn but have a richer weight and texture and a pronounced french fry appeal.

    Price and flavor considered, garbanzo bean flour was instantly intriguing to me. 1/4 cup boasts:

    • 6g Protein                              (Compared to 3g in bleached white flour)
    • 5g Dietary Fiber                   (Compared to <1g in bleached white flour)
    • 18g Carbs                               (Compared to 23g in bleached white flour)
    • 10% Daily value of iron     (Compared to 6% in bleached white flour)

    Not to mention, being WCRS-free, it’s safe for Tre’s new diet. Here was the first step in re-inventing wheat based foods.

    Although garbanzo bean flour has a similar consistency to regular white flour white when dry, it needs to be manipulated in cooking in order to behave the same way. Unlike some other nut and bean flours, garbanzo bean flour can be used on it’s own without having to be combined with other flours in baking. It can also be used as a thickener or filler for sauces and stews much like wheat flour. However, as I discovered in my first garbanzo bean flour adventure, it’s not as soluble as wheat flour and takes a little effort to dissolve into water. I also have yet to see if it can be leavened into breads with yeast or eggs.

    I look forward to experimenting with garbanzo bean flour and am quite pleased by my accidental discovery. Recipes ahead, stay tuned!