Tag Archives: low carb

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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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.

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.

Skewer-less Sirloin Kebabs

1 Dec

In a pleasant turn of evens last night, Tre insisted on cooking for me when we got home from the grocery store. I’ll admit it was nice to have pre-dinner time off, not that I was any less domestic. I took the time to work on a scarf I’ve been knitting for Tre and to tidy up the kitchen. I know how that sounds and I swear I’m not undermining the last 50 years of feminist advancement. By day I’m an office worker in Information Technology at the local University. By night, I’m a Business School grad student. That leaves me a total of maybe 2 hours an evening to accomplish anything else I might have to do. With all the hectic running around, problem solving, and teamwork, I consider cooking, cleaning, light hobbies, even the gym to be a welcome mental break.

Having taken an adequate hiatus from red meat, plus celebrating a holiday that is centered around poultry, we decided to pick up some steak for a quick meal. Generally, I think that people perceive steak as being difficult to cook since it’s usually a top dollar menu item in restaurants. Having perfected my own brand of steak preparation, I’ve found that steak is not only quick and easy to prepare, it’s also very filling in smaller portions and, depending on the cut, still budget friendly. I will do a dedicated steak post to get into all that though. Stay tuned.

I admire Tre’s cooking in the sense that he keeps the dishes very simple, but he’s not afraid to try new things and experiment with spices and sauces. He also pays particular attention to pairing meats with veggies and entrees with sides. With three ingredients and a sauce, he was able to pull together a quick and delicious entree paired with a potato side that couldn’t have been easier for a Tuesday night. It reminded me fondly of summery beef kebabs, with a tangy marinade and chunks of pepper and onion cooked al-dente, minus the skewer and the grill. At some point I acquired one of those lean-cooking counter top grills that both robs you of flavor and is a pain in the ass to clean. Not to mention, it leaves anything you possibly cook on it with a distinct rubbery texture. Rather than bust out my only kitchen electric that I’m ashamed to own, we opted to cook over the stove for an autumn twist on kebabs. This recipe would also work well with boneless chicken.

Vinaigrette Marinade — Yields 1-1/2 cup

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Directions

  1. Whisk ingredients together until combined. Store in a large jar and keep refrigerated.

Skewer-less Sirloin Kebabs — Serves 4

  • 2lb sirloin steak, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped into 1 inch squares
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped into 1 inch squares
  • 1 large red onion, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 12-ounce package whole white or small portabella mushrooms, cleaned
  • 1 cup vinaigrette marinade (see above)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Cooking up our skewer-less kebabs. I popped into the kitchen long enough to snap a photo. Disclaimer: We used yellow onion instead of red and only one pepper. They also were not cut into squares as recommended in the recipe... but still the same general concept.

 

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine sirloin cubes with peppers, onion, and mushrooms. Toss with vinaigrette marinade and transfer to two large ziplock bags. On plates, flatten the bags to allow the ingredients to all sit in the marinade. Refrigerate the bags for no less than 2 hours and as long as over night.
  2. After the ingredients have finished marinading, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Transfer the meat and vegetables to the skillet by spooning them out of the bags. Do not dump the entire contents of the bag into the skillet. Save 1/3 cup of marinade from the bags and pour over the cooking vegetables and meat.
  3. Allow the meat and vegetables to cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened and the meat is cooked through to desired doneness, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.

If you’re feeling particularly Mediterranean, you could crumble some feta cheese on top and serve over greens (or over a pita if you are not gluten-intolerent).

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 Kitchen Essentials Series: #1 Basic Electrics

22 Nov

Part of living a gluten-free (corn, rice, and soy-free as well) means more time in the kitchen cooking for myself and Tre. In spending this time, I’ve discovered that my kitchen is just as essential to the process as the recipes and the cooking. There are a few things in my kitchen that have made the process vastly easier. These “Kitchen Essentials” are a short list of items that I’ve learned to love. Keep an eye out for more Kitchen Essentials!

“Kitchen Electrics” describes a vast genus of modern era kitchen gadgets designed to make our lives easier, while more often than not, serving as catalysts of utter frustration. A step below your larger kitchen appliances, kitchen electrics are more supplemental to cooking, and less essential though they do simplify and expedite many processes for us. They range from run-of-the-mill blenders, toasters, and slow cookers, to posh bread makers and wine chillers, to eclectic ice cream makers and juicers, to vast collections of gadgets all designed around the single process of making coffee. You no longer have to peel an apple by hand because there’s a screwy-lever looking thing that will do it for you. You no longer have to grease and heat a skillet on your stove because there’s an electric one you can just plug in. Point is, it gets a little excessive when every need you could possibly have in the kitchen is met with some “as seen on TV” electric gadget..

In the kitchen of my dreams, the navigation bar of bedbathandbeyond.com’s “kitchen electrics” section would be an itemized inventory of my cabinets. But the reality of the situation is that many of these items are both expensive and unnecessary for every day cooking. Not to mention, many of their processes can be replicated with standard utensils and my own two hands.

Yet despite the obvious frivolity of some kitchen electrics (infrared bacon cooker, anyone?), there are a few that I’ve grown quite fond of and, dare I say, could not live without. Of the expansive selection of electrics pandered to us in infomercials, department store flyers, and cooking shows (hosted by chefs who claim that their recipes can be recreated in the common kitchen yet wield $400 commercial blenders and mixer attachments), I’ve narrowed it down to 5 that have proven to be ever useful in my kitchen and relatively inexpensive.

Kitchen Electric Essentials

  1. Food Processor/Blender: I don’t actually have a separate blender, I use my food processor to do basically the same function so I list these concurrently as number 1. My food processor has helped me do everything from simplify ingredient preparation to allowing me to create entire meals in its bowl. If you’re going to squirrel away money for a solid kitchen electric, I would spend it on a nice food processor or blender. They really open doors in the culinary realm if you’re willing to splurge a little on buying one. Cheap food processors and blenders break easily and often leave people disillusioned about having them in their kitchen. But if you decide you really want to have food processor or blender, be prepared to make it a solid investment. It will be worth it!
  2. Mixer: Electric mixers, not necessarily stand ones but $20 hand mixers, have also become a kitchen essential for me. All you ever have to do is try to mix something by hand once and you’ll come to appreciate the simple effectiveness of having one of these bad boys handy.
  3. Slow Cooker: My slow cooker, or “crock pot” as they are affectionately referred to, ranks supreme when it comes to making easy meals. Although the name implies that it requires time to cook, 9 times out of 10, all you have to do is combine your ingredients and let it do its job over night. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Crock pots retail for as low as $15 and come in a range of sizes and options. At one point, I shamelessly owned 3… 2 of which succumbed to my clumsiness.
  4. Toaster Oven: Since Tre and I don’t eat bread (at least not until I find a WCRS-free recipe that works), having a standard toaster is almost pointless. I would not have even listed a toaster oven here had I not inherited one from a former roommate and come to appreciate its power in the kitchen. Good quality toaster ovens can be treated like mini versions of their full scale appliance counterparts with similar levels of performance. I’ve used mine for everything from baking small desserts, potatoes, and veggies to broiling steak and cooking half-chickens. I find my toaster oven to be most useful when I have a lot of things that need to be baked at different temperatures and don’t have time to wait for one item to finish in the oven to start another. I’d go so far to say that if you’re going to buy a toaster, you might as well just buy a full toaster oven for its range of uses not limited to making toast. They heat quickly, they can be cleaned in 1/20th of the time a regular oven requires, they use less electricity than electric stoves, and they’re kinda cute in an “easy bake oven” kind of way.

So there you have it, my dream team of kitchen electrics. While it would certainly be nice to have a more extensive collection, I’ve been quite content with these select few. For those of you who are entering your kitchen for the first time with the intent to be more serious about cooking for yourself and others, I recommend these to the highest degree to save yourself a little time and energy.

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.

My First “Salad” Post: Greens and Beans

15 Nov

I hate salads. Salads of the green, leafy persuasion. Top it off with a gooey slice of tomato or shreds of brownish-purplish cabbage and you have created the absolute last thing I would ever want to consume for sustenance. There. I said it. Sorry Mom, sorry god, but it’s true. I hate making salads, eating salads, ordering salads, you name it. There is nothing I despise more than being half way through a salad, especially if it’s the whole of my meal, and realizing that the dressing on the first bite was the only gratifying part of the whole experience. I am perplexed by the fact that no matter how much salad I choke down, what’s left on the plate doesn’t seem to decrease ever. I will not ever order a salad as an entree at a restaurant, and will only consider consuming a small side salad if it comes with dinner simply to make an example of it. And of course, you will not ever see salad greens in my shopping cart for any reason ever… which was why Tre was so shocked to see me place a bag of escarole on the belt at Wegmans this Sunday. Without shame, he pointed at the bag and accusingly muttered “what is this!?”

I hate salads. I’ll say it again because I think of them as being little more than a foliage mechanism by which we consume salad dressing since it’s societally unacceptable to simply drink it out of the bottle. Enter what I call “Green Guilt.” No, it’s not some marketing ploy aimed at making the nightmarish task of wrangling up my recyclables and dragging them down three flights to the curb morally gratifying. It’s the feeling that I’m not getting as much “foliage” as I should simply because I’m fundamentally opposed to salads. That’s not to say I don’t eat vegetables, quite the contrary. Tre and I basically live on carrots, celery, potatoes, and peppers. Onions and garlic cameo in almost every one of our meals. Eggplant and mushrooms are some of my favorite meat substitutes. Not to mention I have a penchant for cooking with fresh herbs instead of their dried and powdered counterparts. But when it comes to the most essential and proverbial vegetable dish, salads, I opt for almost anything else.

Just how I like my salads... about to be cooked!

The escarole in my cart wasn’t going to be let off so easily, not without my hand at making it into something I actually consider palatable. For some reason, the magic of cooking transforms the salad experience for me from foliage grazing to eating a meal that was intended for human consumption. Instead of making a salad, I decided to give greens and beans an honest shot at winning my affection. Greens and beans is a phenomenal side dish, especially in the fall when you crave meals that are altogether served hot. Some people describe greens and beans as being bland in flavor, but I’m assuming they just aren’t using enough garlic. The simple version I cooked up has a mild, yet distinct garlic flavor making it the perfect complement to a spicy Italian sausage or as a topper for a basic pasta — which was how my mom used to prepare it for us.

Greens and Beans

  • 7 oz (about 4 loose cups, or one prepackaged bag) escarole or other dark salad green such as kale, spinach, or mustard greens.
  • 1 medium sized onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock, more or less depending on amount of greens
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • Dash of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. In a large, deep pan, heat olive oil over low heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until they start to become transparent, about 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add chicken stock and crushed red pepper to the pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until liquid has somewhat reduced. Add cannellini beans, stir, and return to a boil.
  3. Once mixture is boiling, add the greens to the pan. Using tongs, toss the greens in the liquid until they begin to wilt. Simmer uncovered until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and serve with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

After the greens have wilted, this dish is still green.

I like to minimize the amount of time the greens are cooked so they maintain a slight crispness while absorbing some of the other flavors. Reducing cook time also helps preserve the nutrients of the salad greens.

Slow Cooker Series: Pulled Chicken

9 Nov

One of my only complaints in this diet adjustment process has been that the cooking required is somewhat hindered by the amount of personal time tied up by the Simon School. It’s close to impossible to scrounge up a meal at a fast food place or cafe that Tre can feasibly eat since almost everything is contaminated with wheat, corn, rice, and/or soy in some capacity. As a result, we need to cook almost everything ourselves or run the risk of simply not eating. With grad school constantly monopolizing our time and energy, it’s a relief to once and a while hand the cooking almost entirely over to an appliance such as my crock pot.

It’s difficult to argue against the merits of slow cooker dishes as they are usually very low maintenance in terms of preparation and cooking and they create strong, aromatic flavors that just don’t express themselves in dishes that are cooked for short periods of time. In my experience, I’ve had to do little more than combine ingredients in the pot and let it cook overnight for pungent and flavorful meals that span a week of lunches or dinners without becoming boring.

This was one such week where after an exhaustive meal planning session, complete with consideration for when we actually have the time to cook, Tre and I settled on a basic crock pot recipe. This time around, it was my allergy dictating the dish and we opted for a basic BBQ pulled chicken recipe — since I am allergic to pork — to be served similar to a stew.

This is my pulled chicken after shredding it and returning it to the crock pot.

Tre and I are both huge BBQ fans, more so in the Autumn I think than in the Summer. The smoky, spicy flavors from slow cooked meat in BBQ sauce brings about a comfort food warmth necessary to fend off the early Winter chill. For those of you who are lucky enough to have access to Dinosaur sauce in stores (online here also), this is my go-to for everything BBQ. The sauce has a flavor quality unlike any BBQ sauce I’ve ever tasted. As the signature sauce of a NY BBQ Mecca, Dino sauce is bright and tangy and has a flavor I’d describe as being more fresh and hot than the run-of-the-mill hickory BBQ sauces that are indistinguishable from one another. I could go on all day about the aroma’s and nuances of Dino. If you’ve had it, you know. If haven’t, treat yourself and nab some at the store or online. I promise it will be worth it. For Tre and I, it’s just what the doctor ordered. Dino is gluten free and in fact, I can count all of its all natural ingredients on two hands.

With a bottle of Dino and some frozen chicken breasts, it was clear that this recipe couldn’t be any simpler. Yet despite its simplicity, it’s received high marks as being very filling and very flavorful.

Shredding the chicken after cooking

Pulled Chicken

  • 4 large chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 19oz bottle of Dinosaur BBQ’s “Sensual Slathering” sauce OR 2-1/4 cups BBQ sauce of choice
  • Directions

    1. Combine ingredients in a slow cooker. Set the cooker on low and cook for 6-8 hours until chicken is tender.
    2. Turn off the slow cooker. Remove chicken breasts and place in a large bowl. Using two forks, shred the chicken to desired consistency.
    3. Return chicken to the slow cooker with the remaining sauce and combine.

    Tre and I literally box this up in tupperware, heat it, and eat it like a stew for lunch. Just today I was heating mine up and a coworker from down the hall stopped in to tell me my office smelled like Court Street, where Dinosaur BBQ’s restaurant is located. Like its pork counterpart though, pulled chicken can also be served on a bun as a sandwich which I also recommend highly for the non-gluten intolerant.

    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.