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When in Doubt, Pack a Lunch: A Guide to Gluten Free Dining Outside of Your Home

20 Jan

Because of the required proximity to school and commitment to our respective jobs, Tre and I have become champions of the “staycation” …which I loosely define as Saturdays spent doing homework out of the house and in claustrophobic study rooms on campus. Lucky for us, the stars aligned perfectly allowing us the briefest of real vacations between the holiday and our somber back to school. Opting to make the best of our NY winter wonderland, Tre and I decided to get out of the city and head to scenic Lake Placid in the Adirondacks for a week of skiing, sight-seeing, and reliving the momentous 1980 Winter Olympics.

This is Tre and I (please don't mind the fact that I'm wearing zero makeup) on the second summit of Whiteface Mountain. In the background is frozen Lake Placid.

This is the first vacation Tre and I have gone on since his diagnosis and the first time we have had to consciously consider how we would eat while away from home. Previously, Tre and I would work restaurant visits into our travel budget and be content with getting all our meals out. Historically, this would always result in Tre being subsequently ill for the balance of our vacations eating foods that were laden with his allergens. For the briefest of moments, I experienced a twinge of panic upon realizing that with Tre’s allergy we would be unable to rely completely on restaurants — which are (generally speaking) notorious for having only limited WCRS-free options. With careful menu review we could get a couple meals out. But for 5 days-worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, it would be too risky to leave all our meals to the mercy of chefs. Yes, I am a bit of a micromanager when it comes to the food we eat, but this was one vacation that gluten was not going to ruin for us.

I began to consider our options and I decided that the best course of action would simply be to pack food for the trip. Although our hotel room did not have a kitchenette, it did have a mini fridge; basically the one thing that allowed our necessary meal planning to go largely unhindered on our vacation.

Tre and I settled on eating out at restaurants only for dinners leaving breakfast and lunch to be prepacked. The Sunday before heading off to Lake Placid, we hit up the grocery store for a week’s worth of food. From our spoils, we were able to prepare and pack fruit salad, cheeses, trail mix, cold cuts, carrots, guacamole, smashed potatoes, and chicken salad among other things to ensure that we would have plenty to eat during the day.

Prepacking actually turned out to be dually beneficial: we had plenty of WCRS-free foods right in our room and we ended up avoiding premium prices for (potentially risky) meals in the resort town and on the mountain. Thank goodness, because with $8 french fries at the mid-mountain ski lodge where we ate our lunches, our vacation would have clocked in at a couple hundred dollars over our budget.

I'd say "don't knock it 'till you try it" but I think my garbage plate is suitable for people of very.... specific taste. We scarfed them down because we would be crazy-hungry by noon on a given day, but I wouldn't recommend this concoction for casual eating.

One favorite on our vacation was a chicken salad I’d thrown together that could be packed up and taken with us on the mountain. I say chicken salad, but really the dish that we ended up packing daily was what I would call a “gluten free garbage plate” which may be largely unpalatable for the general population. I’ll spare you an official recipe for my garbage plate, suffice it to say that it included my chicken salad, roast beef, turkey, provolone, swiss, smashed potatoes, and carrots stuffed into a tupperware and eaten as “fuel” for skiing.

That said, my chicken salad by itself was actually very tasty and has made numerous reappearances since our vacation. It’s a very simple yet flavorful dish that can be tailored by your choice of mustard. Dijon has been our go-to, but I’ve prepared this with everything from honey mustard to chipotle mustard each time yielding a unique and interesting dish considering its simplicity. Though typically served cold, I’ve been known to heat up my chicken salad.

Chicken Salad

  • 4 large chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup celery, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 4 heaping tbs dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken breasts in a lightly greased oven-safe pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
  2. Allow chicken to cool until it can be handled, about 20 minutes. Cut chicken breasts into 1 inch cubes.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine chicken, celery, onion, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Toss until chicken is completely coated adding more mustard by the tbs as needed to taste.
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Guacamole: A New Kind of Condiment

2 Dec

One thing that Tre and I have made consistently every week since his diagnosis is, you guessed it, guacamole. We’re lucky to have a local grocery store with an almost constant stock of fresh avocados all year round and it makes me sad that so many people pass up this wonderful fruit. Guacamole has made appearances here on this blog in my beef and turkey swiss burger recipes. But behind the scenes, it goes on everything from cold cut sandwiches (with almond flour bread) to carrot sticks for a quick snack. Since I intend to keep guacamole as a regular part of our diet and will surely have it make cameos on the blog going forward, I figured it was time to post the official recipe.

Here is a batch of guac all packaged and ready for storage. Tre and I will make guac every Monday or Tuesday and eat it throughout the week. We enjoy it most as a dip for carrot sticks but have been known just spoon it out of the bowl from time to time.

 

Between the two of us, Tre and I go through about 2 avocados a week worth of guac. Instead of buying pre-made guacs laden with preservatives and salt, or envelopes of powdered ingredients that I can’t even pronounce, Tre and I take the 15 minutes required for preparation to make our own guacamole from fresh, ripe avocados.

Avocados are praised for their health benefits and are often cited as not only being a great snack, salad topper, and dip ingredient, but also a healthier alternative to run-of-the-mill condiments like mayonnaise. Avocados are loaded with vitamin K, fiber, folic acid, potassium, protein, and healthy calories among other things and have been linked to weight loss, cardiovascular health, and lower cholesterol. While some people simply substitute avocado slices in for typical condiments on their sandwiches, I like to take it a step further and create a thick, spicy guacamole for a topper. I could literally go on and on about how much I love guacamole, but by all means, here is the recipe

Guacamole — Yields about 1 cup. We double the recipe for a week’s supply

  • 1 large ripe avocado, pitted and skinned
  • 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tbsp red onion, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • Dash crushed red pepper
  • Dash cayenne pepper to taste (very hot so add in small increments)

Directions

  1. In a medium sized bowl begin to mash pitted and skinned avocado with a fork or potato smasher. Add lemon juice and onion and mix until well combined.
  2. Add salt, garlic powder, and onion powder and combine with a fork. Begin to add crushed red pepper and cayenne pepper to taste to build up heat. I recommend about 1 tsp crushed red pepper and a very small dash of cayenne. Combine all ingredients and let the guacamole sit for about an hour to combine flavors. Mix again with a fork and serve.
  3. To refrigerate, plate the guacamole in a smaller bowl. Stretch plastic wrap over the top and pat it down until it is in contact with all the contents of the bowl. This will help prevent browning (oxidation) of the guacamole and drying.

Note: Guacamole will almost always brown slightly when stored for any period of time. This is due to oxidation of the avocado when it is exposed to air. The lemon juice in the recipe not only adds to the flavor, but also slows the oxidation. The color does not mean that the guacamole has gone bad but you do want to keep track of how many days it is stored. This recipe has an approximate refrigerated shelf life of about 6 days when stored properly with plastic wrap.

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.