Tag Archives: recipe

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.

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.

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).

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 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.

Kitchen Tips: Never Toss Forgotten, Rotten Food Again. Save Your Receipts!

16 Nov

Although this does not necessarily pertain to eating WCRS-free, I have assorted kitchen tips that have helped me to become an organized, clean, and resourceful chef since becoming serious about cooking. My kitchen is one of the most prominent features of my exploration into new culinary territory and in expanding my kitchen and its use, I’ve found a couple ways to improve the overall experience. I’d be a fool not to share these tidbits along with my tips for living WCRS-free so keep your eye out for Kitchen Tips!

How many times do you go to the grocery store, buy awesome-looking fresh produce and meat with full intention of making meals all week, bring your purchases home and square them away in refrigerator drawers and then…

BAM!

Grad school/work/life happens and all the sudden it’s 3 weeks later, you’ve completely forgotten about the food you bought, you can’t remember the last time you cooked and ate at home, and you open said fridge drawers to bags of rotten produce soup, green meat, and other assorted foods long past their edible prime. OK, maybe that’s a super-extreme example. I won’t say it hasn’t happened to me considering the craziness that has been my life for the last year. But whether this has happened to you in the exact same manner as the scenario above, or even with a single piece of produce or cut of meat that you simply forgot purchasing, then you know the anguish of having wasted food that you were once excited about preparing and eating.

Call it stinginess. Some people have no problem pitching food. But between the money lost (double lost actually if I eat out instead of cooking the food I purchased) and the slightest tinge of guilt for wasting what could have been great food, I’ve sworn off pitching rotten food. No, that doesn’t mean I force myself to eat long-expired perishables or hoard decomposing produce and meat. I have simply made a pact to myself that I will never let my food get to that point.

It’s not more expensive tupperware that’s the key, or those green bags that swear they keep your produce fresh for weeks. It’s not freezing everything I bring home or turning to preservative-laden jarred goods. My secret? It’s simple really. I discovered it when I could no longer keep track of the foods I’d purchased in a sea of roommate grocery clutter in our refrigerator. In an attempt to inventory what I had, I saved my grocery receipt and taped it up on the fridge. Aside from clearing up the “who bought it” mystery, this method also helped me to keep track of what I had for use. When I’d cook with or use something, I’d either cross it off the list, or change the quantity on the receipt if I had some left. Anything left from previous shopping trips that I needed to use was written in at the bottom (since much of what I buy is perishable produce and meats). And anything general like paper towels, spices, and condiments were simply crossed off since they entered the supply rotation. The result was a neat little inventory of everything I had in the fridge replaced each week with a new shopping trip receipt.

Having my groceries inventoried like this for the last year has saved me from inevitably forgetting foods and allowing them to rot into waste. No matter how thoroughly you meal-plan, everyone has forgotten about something in the fridge or pantry. With your own list right in front of you every time you hit up the fridge, it’s easy to keep track of what you have, how old it is, and what you need to buy.