Tag Archives: experimentation

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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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.

Dinosaur Ratatouille: Add a Little Heat

20 Dec

Growing up, there was a definitive point in the year when my mom’s cooking would switch from light summer fair to warmer, more substantial late fall dishes — a trend that would carry into the coldest days of New York winters. November, December, and January were met with large pots of beefy stews, steamy oxtail soup, aromatic chili, roasted root vegetables, and hearty cassoulet all served piping hot in the comfort of our small city home. It was the quintessence of winter, warm and robust meals, meaty, saucy, and spicy all to take the chill out of the air with snow falling as early as October.

My countertop, the garden. All my vegetables, laid out and ready to be prepped for my favorite winter-dish.

Of all the foods my mom prepared, one vegetable dish — made popular by the Disney movie whose name it shares — was my favorite. Ratatouille, made traditionally in the vegetarian paradigm of the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, is the perfect marriage of spices and vegetables that never comes off as bland or uninteresting. While ratatouille runs in the same vein as chili, with its fragrant seasoning and twang of spicy heat, this dish is both meatless and beanless.

My tower of eggplant.

I don’t typically cook all-vegetarian meals, at least not entrees themselves. I reserve my veggies for side dishes or light snacks and let the noble meats pull the weight in my cooking. What makes ratatouille so special though is that there are so many different types of vegetables involved that this dish is interesting enough to stand on its own. Eggplant, a vegetable favorite of mine with its meaty texture and ability to take on just about any flavor, is the ingredient that really helps pull this dish into the realm of hearty and filling.

While my Moosewood Cookbook recipe for ratatouille has served me well for a number of years, I really wanted to spice this dish up for Tre’s inaugural tasting. Naturally gluten-free  and free of corn, rice, and soy I knew that ratatouille would be good for a few dinners and lunches. But I wanted a taste that was unique from the recipe I’d grown to love. Looking to my culinary inspiration, the Dinosaur BBQ, and their smoky, tangy arsenal of sauces, I decided to create a little twist on this old favorite.

Dinosaur Ratatouille

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium size onions, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant peeled and cubed
  • 1 large zucchini, cubed
  • 1 green bell pepper, cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, cubed
  • 3 small vine tomatoes, diced (or one 14oz can diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 1/3 cup Dinosaur Sensual Slathering Sauce
  • 1 tbsp Dinosaur Garlic Chipotle Pepper Sauce

This calls for a LARGE pot!

 

Directions

  1. In a a large stockpot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and bay leaf and cook until onion begins to go transparent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add eggplant. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until eggplant begins to soften.
  3. Add zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, and both sauces. Stir to combine well. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until bell peppers and zucchini have softened.
  4. Remove from heat and serve.

The Kitchen Essentials Series: #2 Sharp Knives and a Decent Cutting Board

3 Dec

I’ll admit that at the moment, I don’t have either of these things…

My knife collection consists of a hodgepodge of randomly acquired cutting tools that do not match, are not sharp, and are overall poor quality. I think anyone in those interim years between mid-college and a “grownup” living situation suffers the same lack of commitment to cooking paraphernalia that has resulted in my poor knife inventory. For an assortment of reasons, including the magical disappearance of my kitchenware when roommates move, to the cost of high quality sets, to an inherent and respectful fear of all blades, I’ve foregone the dive into investing in a quality set.

Despite my willingness to settle with my garage sale-caliber spread, I thoroughly believe that the most dangerous thing you can have in your home is a dull knife. With the extra pressure you need to apply for cuts and their overall clunky precision, you’re more likely to bury a dull knife in your hand and do serious damage to yourself than with a sharp knife.

Emotional cost of stitches > cost of a nice knife set

Just tonight, Tre nearly took off an entire finger slicing champaign cheddar with a butter knife… not that that’s ever an appropriate tool choice for cutting anything harder than butter, but it’s an excellent point-prover. That’s not to say you can’t hurt yourself with a sharp knife either: just ask my mom about the cutco incident where she and I both inflicted surgery-precise wounds on ourselves within 10 minutes of each other. But given a choice and weighing the risk, I’d opt for a sharp, high quality set any day. Christmas is coming….

In addition a large cutting board gives you more room to maneuver said knives and to work with multiple or large portions of ingredients. My cutting board is clunky and has been mistaken for a drink coaster and I attribute its continued existence in my kitchen to plain forgetfulness. Perhaps writing this post may go so far as to help me remember to grab one next time I’m on my semi-annual trip to Walmart. Thankfully, my food processor helps reduce some of the knife-to-cutting board type prep with less bodily risk, but nonetheless, a larger board would work wonders in my kitchen.

Despite the fact that I own neither a nice set of knives nor a decent cutting board, these rank high on my list of kitchen essentials that everyone should have. If you spend any amount of time prepping ingredients, having both to simplify and safen the process is worth the investment.

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!

Italian Spice Dijon Turkey Burgers — Double Onion, Double Cheese

28 Nov

Burgers have adopted a new sort of connotation for Tre and I since we no longer eat the traditional meat-and-bun, handheld burger. It was strange a first ditching the bread, but it’s given me ample opportunity to spice up traditionally bland meat patties. Between ground beef, our new favorite, ground turkey, and an assortment of fillers and toppings, burgers have become much more interesting from a culinary standpoint and I am actually forced to “think outside the bun.”

Since burgers are no longer a finger-food, I enjoy making them a bit more gourmet — placing the meat over mashed potatoes or latke, topping them with guacamole or handmade sauces, and stuffing them chockfull of spices, cheeses, and veggies to make the patties themselves flavorful.

Alright, I’ll admit that this recipe was thrown together fairly quickly for dinner one night and was never really intended to hit the blog. But another rushed Monday night dinner (Mondays are when Tre and I both have class) turned into a culinary winner and I couldn’t deprive my readers of this recipe! These burgers have onion and cheese both worked into the ground turkey meat and piled on top at the end hence “double onion, double cheese.” With the addition of dijon mustard, crushed red pepper and white pepper, they also have a subtle heat that helps take the fall chill away.

I love all the colors when you mix the ingredients and shape into patties. Not a lot of people think to add extras to their ground meats when making burgers but I consider it essential!

 

Italian Spice Turkey Burger

  • 1lb lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 medium sized onion, chopped (for burgers)
  • 1/2 medium sized onion, sliced (for topping)
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Pinch white pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dijon mustard
  • Grated mozzarella cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Cooking up the turkey burgers!

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven broiler.
  2. In a small pan, heat olive oil over low heat. Add sliced topping onions and cook until soft but do not over cook. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine parmesan cheese, chopped onion, parsley, onion powder, garlic powder, white pepper, crushed red pepper, and ground turkey. Mix until ingredients are well combined. Portion into 4 equal sized clumps and form into patties either with a press or by hand. Season patties with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Place the patties in the pan and cook on both sides, about 5-7 minutes per side until cooked through.
  5. Place the patties on a lightly greased baking pan. Top each patty first with a spread of dijon mustard to taste then add mozzarella cheese, about 2-3 tablespoons per patty, and the softened sliced onions. Broil the patties under oven broiler for about 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Remove from the broiler and serve.

 

Getting ready to go under the broiler!

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!