Thursday, December 1, 2011

Door Knock Dinners

Food Network really needs to bring back Door Knock Dinners.

For those who do not know... it was a VERY early reality TV show back when Food Network (actually showed cooking) was a baby.  Gordon Elliot, with some chef in tow, would show up on a doorstep and try to convince some totally tattered looking housewife into letting the chef make dinner for a family.

Right now, the most vivid memory is some poor chef who had to make panini by pressing some frozen leftover pizza slices together.  Gee, I wonder why the show was canceled.....

But now.... it'd be so easy.  Have people apply to be on the show without a firm commitment that a chef would show up... screen them before, like all "reality" TV show and set up the situation a little. 


Because I am a home cook.  The only cookbook my name will ever be on is the family one we recently threw together so we don't forget all the great recipes of family gatherings, etc. 

But you know what?

I'm also a foodie.

Even though I may be someone who only has about a 45 minute window to cook from the time I walk in the door to the time I need dinner done, I like food.  I like doing things with food.  And I have one HELL of a pantry.

Currently at my disposal -

Homemade beef, chicken, veal, and turkey stocks.  And the stuff to do a shellfish stock.
One quart of duck fat.
Marrow bones.
White and black truffle oil.
About 10 kinds of dried mushrooms.
4 types of rice (white, brown, sushi rice and jasmine rice)
Tuffle butter
Preserved lemons
Various types of canned oilives.
4 quarts of olive oil.
4 pounds of butter.
Leeks and shallots.
Multiple types of anchovies.
Various cured meats (salamis, hams, etc.)
2 quarts of leftover homemade chili.
1 quart of homemade caramelized onions.
1 dozen eggs
6 additional egg yolks.

So where would the challenge be??

There is no wheat flour in my house.  None for coating meats, none for thickening. I can't eat it, I don't have it in my house.

Sure.... Top Chef did that ONE episode with Zowie whats-her-face with the restricted diet stuff... but they need to do something more to focus on "This is not a personal lifestyle choice... this is a health issue" and something like that makes a WORLD of difference.

And you know what??

Even with all that minus wheat flour, I think a good chef would be able to make a helluva meal.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The more things change.....

So... it's been over a year gluten-free.  The second Thanksgiving dealing with this.

Last year was not so good.  Stuffing in the turkey (which my husband assured me his mother never did) and dealing with everyone not fully understanding just how serious to take this (no, you can't flop the pan de queso I brought into the same basket as the rest of the rolls, since now I can't eat those), etc.

I'm glad to say this year was much better.  Once I asked and explained to my mother in law that I couldn't eat turkey when the bird was stuffed, she was more than happy to make a separate turkey breast, sans stuffing, so I could easily eat.  And it's also very nice that she had become a label-reader when she's making a prepared dinner - she said she was thinking of calling me to see how she could do the gravy gluten-free until she looked at the chicken stock that she used for her turkey stock again, and saw that had wheat in it (happens a lot with stocks, which is why I am a firm Kitchen Basics gal). 

Last year, I had no sweet stuff at the end of my meal for Thanksgiving.  Thankfully, not this year.

While I have done an okay pie crust using a 30/70 ratio of mixed non-wheat flours, it was just okay.  I wanted to be able to do my good old tart crust, the way I used to.

Enter... Cup4Cup flour.

Yes, it is pricey.  Yes, it it worth every cent.

I had already used it to make some wonderful fried chicken....

(um... yeah... the breading kinda fell off that piece, and we had already greedily gobbled up the rest of the chicken by the time I got around to thinking about pictures)

Also used the recipe off the Cup4Cup website to make some apple spice muffins for the husband's birthday (and used cream cheese rather than the goat cheese... we're not goat cheese people).

For Thanksgiving... I got ambitious.

The usual pecan pie...

And a totally new recipe for something I've never even tried with wheat flour... Baked Apple Dumplings.

The dough was a little too wet, honestly, and getting the dough formed around the dumplings was not the easiest thing in the world, but since it's not a gluten-developing flour, I was able to go "oh well" and peel the dough off the apple half, flop it back on my board, add a little more flour, and work it into a circle again and give another go.  Worked out fine in the end.

It was like cooking with wheat flour again.  Just as easy... no special tricks or anything needed.

One fantastic thing about Cup4Cup is that it's not gritty.  Rice flour usually is gritty, and while you may not notice it as much in baked cakes and muffins, it shows in things like breading and pie crust.  Even working with it while making the fried chicken, it felt like "regular" flour.

Out of the single bag of flour, I got the whole fried chicken, the muffins, the pecan pie crust, and what pretty much equals two batches of pie/biscuit dough for the dumplings.  Not a bad haul.  And considering the amount of other things that have ended up going right into the trash with other gluten-free flours.... I'm a convert.

I went to buy a back-up bag before Thanksgiving just in case, and while checking out the sales person told me her family has been gluten-free for years and she absolutely loves this flour (she said she bought eight bags - yikes! - when it first came out).  She said the recipe for plain old Toll House cookies is AWESOME with this flour, by far the best one she's used - she said she likes the flour in the Toll House recipe more than the Cup4Cup cookie mix.  I still have to try that.

In fact, I have a lot of recipes I want to try. 
I can make cookies this Christmas.  And they won't all end up in the trash.  I like the thought of that.

Nuttle Family Pecan Pie

Tart Pastry:

Larger Pan (ceramic pie dish, etc.) 9-inch pan (disposable pie plate, tart pan., etc.)
1 ½ cups flour (210 grams) 1 cups flour (140 grams)
¼ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon salt
9 T cold butter, cut into small pieces 6 T cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 egg yolks 1 egg yolks
2-3 T water 2 T water

Mix the flour and the salt. Using a food processor or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles course meal or tiny peas. Whisk the egg yolks with the 2 tablespoons of water and add to the flour mixture. Mix or pulse until the pastry is smooth and holds together in a ball. Slowly add more water if needed. Wrap in foil or plastic and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.springform pan, do not remove the sides until you are ready to serve the tart.


Tart Pastry dough 1 cup dark corn syrup
3 eggs, lightly beaten 2 t butter, melted
¾ cup sugar 1 t vanilla
1/8 t salt 1 ½ cups pecans, lightly chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line the pie pan with the pastry dough. Combine the eggs, sugar, salt, corn syrup, butter an vanilla in a bowl and blend well. Stir in the pecans. Pour into the lined pan. NOTE: You may have some extra leftover syrup filling – the Nuttle way is to pack more nuts into the pan so it's not like a layer of nuts on top of the layer of gooey filling.

Bake for 10 minutes the reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 35 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Overcoming Party Anxiety

Big, family parties can be a bit intimidating when you can't eat wheat.

Typical party fare for the Chicagoland area is catered Italian beef, fried chicken and baked ziti.  While Italian Beef may be OK on the surface (roasted beef, thin sliced and swimming in au jus) it's bound to get crumbs in it while people make up sandwiches.  The chicken is out.  The pasta is out.  Salads usually involvce croutons.  Chips and dips can have wheat, or be contaminated by dipping (like one party when I brought a HUGE amount of clam dip and potato chips, only to go and get some and find someone had obviously dipped a cheese Dorito - which has wheat - in the dip, making it all off limits for me after that point).

Now, I've also been raised that when you go to a party, you offer to bring something to help out.  Which makes it easy to say "I'll bring the baked pasta" and make it gluten-free.  No one can tell gluten-free pasta from the regular stuff once it's baked.

I do an adaptation of an America's Test Kitchen recipe.  And it's easy.

I usually do two half-trays of pasta.  For that, there is two pounds of pasta.

For the sauce, 2 cups of cream with a half tablespoon of cornstarch stirred in. Heat that until it thickens.

Into that, dumo in a jar of your favorite jarred sauce.

Stir to combine.

 Take your cooked pasta.......

Dump sauce on top....

 The ATK recipe calls for cottage cheese.  I forgot that fact and bought a big tub of ricotta.  Ooops.

Add your parm (and I also use some romano) and stir....

Dump into baking tray, and add 1/4 pound of cubed (NOT THE PRE-SHREDDED) mozzerella cheese.  Stir it in.

Top each tray with another 1/4 pound of cubed cheese.

 I make it the day before, and then stash that in the fridge.  The day of the party, pull it out, heat up the oven to 350, and cook for 30 minutes covered, then 30 minutes uncovered.

Bring to the party and let everyone dig in.

I promise you, no one will know it is gluten-free unless you tell them.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wait... you're gluten-free menu is a whole TWO PAGES?

Until you have to do something like go gluten-free, you have no idea how exciting a two page menu at a restaurant can be.

For my father-in-law's birthday, we went to the nearby Biaggi's.  It's no more than five minutes away from our home.  Been there for awhile.  Had no idea they had a gluten-free menu until now.

And it's a whole two pages.  Appetizers, salads, entrees, even pizzas on gluten-free dough.  And I got some hot flatbread (I would guess the same they use for pizzas) to munch on while everyone else was munching on bread.  You don't even know how awesome that is... to have something you can dip into olive oil and Parmesan (if you ask, they'll bring you some from the kitchen so you're not using the one that has been sitting at the table) along with everyone else.

It did take longer for my bread to come out (they had to heat it up from frozen) and it may have taken longer for our mains to arrive since I had pasta and don't know if they have a dedicated pot for their GF pasta or if they had to bring water to the boil... but it was great.  Their gluten-free pastas are slighty different colors/shapes than their wheat counterparts (apparently Tinkyada pastas - I may need to buy more of this brand since it tasted so good I did have a moment of panic before I swirled my pasta around a bit and went "oh, good, it's breaking all apart like gluten-free pasta should... whew... it is gluten-free) so you can be sure there isn't an "oops" and you got the wrong plate.  And my oldest nephew was actually brave enough to try the carpaccio with me.

As we were leaving, I notice a little girl at one table eating what looked like the gluten-free pasta in alfredo sauce.  Imagine that as a 6-7 year old kid... this is a place where you can go and have an option like some pasta alfredo (kids menus are usually nothing but non-gluten-free items... pizza, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, etc.).

We will be going back. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tempura Pancakes

There are some things that can make you very excited when you have a wheat allergy.

Like The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen by Laura B. Russell.  It came out in August.

But doesn't all Asian food stay away from wheat?

No.  Wheat is usually an ingredient in soy sauce and although there is evidence that naturally-brewed soy sauce has no gluten by the time it reaches the end product (a lot of times, fermentation de-natures proteins like gluten), it may still depend on the brand of soy sauce. And when you know soy sauce may cause you problems, that makes a take-out Asian kitchen a pretty scary place.

I've had Chinese food three times since going wheat-free.  Once, they did not pay attention to my "no soy sauce" instruction on some take out (it was a place mid-way between my own home and where I eventually brought the food) and I had an allergic reaction either from that or something else (it was early on in this process).  Another time (the same place) they did listen to my order, and I either had an allergy attack or a panic attack of minor symptoms.  The last time, it was from a place in Wheeling, Illinois (halfway between my work and my home) called the Golden Chef where the wife of the chef is actually a nutritionist so they are pretty "up" on their stuff about food, and they actually have a gluten-free menu.  That experience was great.

It's not just the obvious "don't use soy sauce when making my dish".  Everything is fried in oil that is also used for wheat products, a lot of other sauces use wheat or soy sauce in some form, and a lot of places will have meats marinating in some form of soy-sauce-based marinade before it even makes it to a wok.  Too many possibilities for error for a lot of people to be comfortable with.

I was very, very excited when I heard this book was coming out.  And it has a picture of pot stickers on the cover.  Pot stickers are one of those things that I miss the most.

I do still cook Asian food in my own home.  A basic stir-fry with tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) is not hard to do.  Serve over plain steamed rice.  Ho hum.

This book has a few sections - Sauces, snacks, dumplings and pancakes, noodles, rice, veggies & tofu, seafood, poultry, meat, and drinks & sweets.  I made it as far as the pancakes before I was already changing around menu plans for the week to try the Shrimp Tempura Pancakes.

I love tempura.  But I will be the first to admit, it is a lot of work.  Gotta bring a few inches of oil to a boil, a lot of cleaning/chopping veg, dip, fry, drip, fry, and so on.

But apparently Thai people do it differently and treat it a bit more like a fritter.  In other words... mix up a batter, dump in your ingredients, and cook it more like pancakes.  I'm all for that.

The recipe in the book (yeah... you're going to have to buy it if you want it, sorry!) uses just shrimp and shredded sweet potato.  One of my favorites in tempura is broccoli, so I added about a half a head (and a leftover half stalk) of chopped broccoli in addition to some shrimp and the shredded sweet potato.  I did my shredding in a my Cuisinart - by all means, buy a bag of broccoli slaw if you are too lazy to grate all that and don't have a machine that does it for you.  Shredded carrot would also work well.

The batter is just rice flour, cornstarch, egg and soda water.  You mix that with the chopped shrimp and veggies.  I cooked mine in a skillet with a layer of oil at the bottom (I probably could have even used less oil than I did).  Flip carefully when they are golden on one side and continue to cook.  I served mine with some soy/rice vinegar/Sriracha dipping sauce.  And the only reason I stopped eating was to upload the photos and write this (one more pancake may disappear before the leftovers make it into the fridge).

That is shrimp, sweet potato, broccoli and green onion all in a tasty little cake.  And it is very, very tasty.

And also... being gluten-free... I do not feel bad eating something that is fried in my own home.  Fried food at most places (even french fries) is a no-no since they also cook wheat things in the same oil. I can't decide I want some french fries and pull into the nearest drive-thru.  I can't go "I feel like a doughnut this morning" and stop and pick one up. If I want something fried, I have to plan ahead an usually make it myself.

Next recipe for my to try in this book is the salt & pepper squid.  It has been one of those things I always wanted to try.... and now if I want to try it, I'll have to make it myself.  It may even get cooked for some "first afternoon of watching football" munchies this weekend.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happy Gluten-Free-versary To Me

One year.

One year without (knowingly) having gluten.

And I expect those vegan-like superpowers (Scott Pilgrim!) to kick in any day now.  Aaaaaaany day now.

Last year was the last time I had homemade no-knead bread and cheese ravioli as my "last meal".

In a year, I have not ONCE eaten anything from a McDonald's, Burger King, Culvers, Taco Bell, White Castle, Panera Bread, Subway, KFC, Popeye's Chicken.  No gyros (the meat involves breadcrumbs).  No fast food fries (except Five Guys) since they are usually cooked in the same oil as wheat products.  For the first time in my life I've had to send food back to the kitchen uneaten because there was bread or pasta in there somewhere.  And as much as I tried to deny my problems were "just wheat" and not gluten, I've also figured out the problem IS gluten and I can only drink totally gluten-free beers.  No paczki were had by me this year.

For some people, yes, it is fad.  But no one does it 24-7 on a whim.  Trust me.

I still have to ask my mother in law to cook the stuffing outside the turkey this year.  I would guess for awhile still, I will dread a lot of parties and gatherings (outside the family) that have to do with food, because it means I have to bring my own (usually).  I'll continue to bow out of some work events and gatherings because there just won't be a single thing I can eat there.  I will continue to live in mortal fear of the shared kitchen area at work on mornings where someone brings in bagels (seriously... engineers are NOT a tidy lot and the breadcrumbs get EVERYWHERE).

But I have learned other things.  Good things.

I can now (thanks to a rice cooker) cook rice and make an awesome risotto.  I can make a gluten-free pie crust.  In home cooking, I can sub for most gluten-ingredients and stay happy.

It has very much been a love/hate year with food.  I'm trying to lean more back towards love.  And it will continue to be difficult, but hopefully, I'll come around.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Oldie but a Goodie.... Sunday Gravy.

That is a happy plate.

It's always happy plates when it is Sunday Gravy night.

I originally used a recipe from America's Test Kitchen, and since the first time I have probably gotten more lazy and just do this on the fly.  It always works.

Buy a package of bone-in country style pork ribs.  By some beef that looks good/is priced right (a small chuck roast, beef shanks, flank steak - whatever looks good at the market and is priced right.  Tonight, I used beef shanks 'cause they were on sale today).  Buy a package of good Italian sausage, and a couple bottles of your favorite spaghetti sauce.

Then look in your fridge.  Have mushrooms you need to use up?  Slice up those. Zucchini?  Also a good addition.

Yes, it is going to better if you brown up your meat (but if you are really lazy, you don't have to).  You can then dump all the meat and the sauce into the cooking vessel of your choice - either a slow cooker and let it simmer all day, or in a big oven-proof pot that you will bring up to a simmer and then put into a 325 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

At that time, you need to fish out all the meat, degrease the top of the sauce, and then shred up the meat (slice the sausage).  Then dump it back into the sauce.

The hubby like Pappardelle with his.  For me, I did some risotto in the slow cooker.  I'd rather have risotto than most gluten-free pastas, and I can have that going in a rice cooker on the countertop so I'm not juggling stovetop space.

And even if it burns a little on the bottom of your pot, it's all good.

And it makes enough to feed an army.  A good dish if you're having a bunch of hungry people over (We always have tons of leftovers).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When life hands you something unexpected.... pickle something.

So.  Pickle Party.

(No... not that kind of pickle party.  Get yer mind outta the gutter.)

And event of people pickling thing.  Because pickles are good.

Myself, I like "quick pickles".  Things that are not intended to go into jars and storage (I plan to overcome my fear - thank you, Chuck Jones cartoons for making me forever afraid of things like pressure cookers and canning) but you make and you consume quickly.

I did not come from a family where we pickled things.  I was a child of the 80's who grew up in suburban Chicago, and my grandmothers were more than happy to prove that they were more well off than their foremothers and they didn't have to pickle things... they could go to the grocery store and buy the stuff in cans that someone else prepared.  So my parents didn't really know how to pickle anything.  So I never really learned how to pickle or jar anything.

But I do like a quick pickle.  Something that you douse with vinegar and eat while it's still fairly fresh.

I'd planned to touch on some of my top favorites... marinated carrots, pickled cherries to serve with duck, quick pickled red onions for tacos, and Asian cucumber salad.  But then life happened.

I'd planned to do my shopping for that stuff on Sunday.  But late-ish on Saturday night we got a call that my father in law was being admitted to the ER - he wasn't sure if he was having chest pains or just heartburn, and then he started having trouble trying to stand and other things.  We high-tailed it over to the ER.

Thankfully, by the time we got there, they were already 99% sure it was just dehydration and they were pumping him with fluids.  Sure enough, he started to get better fairly quickly.  But he is over 60 and diabetic and when you are that, they are keeping you in the hospital overnight.  We all stuck around until after midnight when they assigned him a room and gave him some meds that were starting to make him sleepy.  We came home.  And of course, needed to chill a bit before heading to bed.

So that shopping planned for Sunday didn't happen.

Father in law is home, has had more test run and while they did find some minor things, there are no big issues, no issues with his heart, and life has resumed a somewhat normal pace.

So at least you get marinated carrots.

I basically use this recipe.  I made it way back when the magazine issue it was in first came out, to bring to a summer party, so the recipe always reminds me of summer (although with the ingredients, you can really make it any time of the year since carrots are pretty much always in season).  I usually bump up the vinegar and ALWAYS use red wine vinegar.  And "up to two days"?  I think it tastes the best after 2 days (and it usually doesn't last much longer than that - munching on this sure beats munching on bagged baby carrots). 

Tonight it got paired with some leftover baked beans and a BLT (I've learned to not toast my gluten-free bread for sandwiches, it tends to make it way too sandpaper-like on the roof of my mouth).

Nothing super fancy and no jars for my cupboard, but for something this easy, you can make it any time you want.

Monday, August 1, 2011

'Tis the season.....

... for ice cream.

Is there anyone who doesn't love ice cream on a hot summer day?

When I was a kid, it was the extra after-dinner treat to hop on the bike and ride to the nearby Baskin Robbins and get a cone, and then try to eat it before it all melted on you.

And there was always only one flavor for me... Chocolate Peanut Butter.  It don't get much better than chocolate ice cream with a ripple of peanut butter that runs thru it.

I did a recent freezer purge.  And of course, one of my first thoughts is "I can buy some ice cream 'cause I'll have someplace to put it!" 

But the amount of times I've reacted to things lately... every major brand of ice cream has some flavor that involves malt or has some type of cone, cake or brownie hunks in it.  My rule of thumb is to not by products that look like they are made on the same lines as anything else that contains wheat.  That leaves me with no choices when it comes to ice cream.

Hey, idiot, what about the TWO ice cream inserts you never remember to put in the freezer?

Oh yeah, those.

But even with the ice cream maker AND extra insert, actually making ice cream involves bowls and pans and measuring cups, etc., etc., etc. 

Or not.

After I flubbed my first batch of plain vanilla ice cream, I was on the web and stumbled upon recipe that don't require an ice cream maker.  But you have one, you just said so!  The whole reason I had a flubbed batch of ice cream was because I did not let my insert get cool enough, so my mixture never turned into ice cream in the freezer.  And it did happen to be an all-cream mixture, and I read that I could just whip that up to stiff peaks in the mixer, I could then just throw that in the freezer and in a longer wait than the ice cream maker (but no need for an ice cream maker) I would have ice cream.

And it worked.  Oh yeah.

A bit stiff, but still good.

For my next batch, I did actually let the insert properly freeze.  And I wanted my chocolate and peanut butter fix.  And I found some recipes that further simplified the ice cream making process... 2 main ingredients.  1 can of sweetened condensed milk and 2 cups of cream.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk
6-7 oz melted dark or semi-sweet chocolate, slightly cooled (I like it very very choco-tastic)
1/2 cup melted peanut butter, slightly cooled

  1. Beat the cream to soft peaks.
  2. Add the condensed milk and cooled chocolate.  Mix to combine. 
  3. If you are not using an ice cream maker, beat that stuff until it is stiff peaks, then place some in your freezing container and then add a layer of peanut butter, then more ice cream, then the peanut butter, etc.  When all the cream is in there, stick a knife in the container to give it all a few swirls. Freeze for 8 to 12 hours.
  4. If you are using an ice cream maker, beat it to soft peaks and add that mixture to your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions for making ice cream.  When it is a nice soft ice cream, some in your freezing container and then add a layer of peanut butter, then more ice cream, then the peanut butter, etc. When all the cream is in there, stick a knife in the container to give it all a few swirls.  Freeze for 4-6 hours.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Little Miss Cross-Contamination Detector (And when "gluten-free" ain't so gluten-free)

It's a picture of me!  Little Miss Cross-Contamination Detector!  Complete with a typical hive breakout after I have ingested gluten!

Probably the most frustraiting thing about being gluten-free for medical reasons is having to find out, the hard way, when things are not really gluten-free.

In the past few weeks I've had allergic reactions (and as you can see by the picture, this means a fun breakout of hives all over) to canned beans, pine nuts, rice, and "gluten-free" soup.  All things that should be fine, but were not.


It doesn't take much to impact someone who is sensative to those items.  We've all heard stories on the news about some people's reactions to peanut allergies that sadly, result in death.  It's not typical for celiacs or adult-onset wheat allergy folks like myself to have a reaction that drastic, but once you start saying the word "allergy" some people can get really scared about serving you anything.  Before our last trip to Vegas I was researching food options and I contacted one place that was on our bucket list for Vegas, Hot 'N' Juicy Crawfish.  I just wanted to know if they had any soy sauce or wheat in their seasoning and I gave a list of usual things that might cause a problem.  The email response I got?  "Maybe you better not eat here."

Thankfully I found the Las Vegas celiac group and someone there confirmed that really, the place was fine for anyone with problems with wheat.  And we did eat there, and I had no problems afterwards.

But a couple of weeks ago I met a friend for lunch and I ordered two things off their "gluten-free" menu - soup and a salad.  And when I ordered I did also mention I had a wheat allergy and asked if they could ask the kitchen staff to be careful.  I got my salad and started picking it apart, and promptly found a piece of pasta in the salad (they place has small tube pasta in some of their salads).  I brought it back to the servers, they apoligized, and then they brought me a fresh salad.  But I still ended up getting sick, and since then I've not been able to get a response from them if they use a dedicated pot for their "gluten-free" soup - I suspect they do not, and that was enough cross-contamination to have me in misery for a couple of days.

I understand the risks in eating out.  There are places that are usually fine - a bunless burger from Five Guys when you ask them to please put on new gloves before handling your burger, salads from Wendy's (all their croutons are in packages), my local Jimmy Johns will make me a sandwich on a clean surface and take all meats/cheeses from the bottom of the stack of meats so they aren't covered with crumbs.  I can eat at our local taco place if I get a tostada (whenever I go they are also usually heating bread for tortas on their flat-top grill which means even corn tortillas are out, and their toastadas are fried offsite by the tortilla makers in oil used only for tortilla chips and toastadas) and one of the meat options that is also not heated up on the grilltop.

Cross-contamination can also come early in the process... in the processing of raw ingredients.  That canister of cornmeal you have in the cabinet?  Guess what, it's not gluten-free.  They also process wheat flour, and it is enough to contaminate the cornmeal. I've pretty much given up on dried lentils since the ones I find always, ALWAYS, also have a grain of wheat in the bag.  One time I didn't look before I added them to a chili, and then a wheat grain bobbed to the surface.  I had to throw out 10 pounds of chili.

And a lot of places now will have a "No Gluten Ingredients Used" disclaimer on their product.  Which is NOT the same as gluten-free.  You can use the cornmeal from the example above - cornmeal on its own does not contain gluten - but if it is already cross-contaminated, you're going to have problems.  And I've come to learn that tricky statement usually always means it really does contain enough trace gluten to cause problems.

All that said... gluten-free is still not something to be totally scared of.  I do not maintain a wheat-free kitchen, or household.  I will cook and serve regular pasta to my husband, I keep fluffy white wheat bread on hand so he can have sandwiches and toast (I did have to give up the toaster to his wheat toast and if I want toast, it's broiler city for me), he'll eat fast food sandwiches.  If I have a sauce for the pasta, I'll put some aside so my hubby can serve himself from that dish (he's a smoosher of pasta sauce into his pasta and he always forgets and uses the spoon he's using to serve himself and then flops it right back into the container without thinking).  I try to keep a side of the sink clean so if he's had bread or pasta he can put his dishes right in there and they will be scrubbed before they go into the dishwasher.  If wheat bread was used in any form, the counters get wiped down when I am cleaning the kitchen.  There is no "X second rule" in our house - if it touches the ground, it goes in the garbage.  And I haven't had a problem in MONTHS from anything within my house (well, that wasn't a contaminated ingredient).

It's not that hard to at least make a good-effort to do gluten-free when you're not in a gluten-free environment.  It just takes some work.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pie Party - Gluten-Free Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

Anyone who has been on a diet misses pie.

And when the word "diet" no longer means "what I am doing temporarily to drop a few pounds" and it means "the dietary restrictions that I have to follow and can't 'cheat' on for the rest of my life", it may seem like you'll never be able to have a pie again.

Yes, I get irrationally (or maybe rationally) angry about all the talk of "The Gluten-Free Diet" as the next big weight loss diet.  It is not a weight loss diet.  It is dietary restrictions that you need to follow, and those things are very, very different.  A few break crumbs WILL make me sick.  (And as I often say, you never hear of anyone offering someone with a peanut allergy a scoop of peanut butter asking them to cheat a little, but it happens ALL the time when you say you're allergic to wheat).

It's been 10 months since I learned I can't have anything wheat.  And that includes pie.

I tried last Christmas to be normal and at least make some cookies and things to try and feel normal.  It was a horrible failure.

I bought the Culinary Institute of America's Gluten-Free Baking book, and I had a couple of successes and a couple of failures (I blame silicone pans).

Then I finally ran across Gluten-Free Girl and all the talk of ratios and how it plays into using non-wheat flours.

Well, duh. Of course.

Thank you, Shauna.  I can at least bake something again.

It makes so much sense, when you actually think about it.  The reason why white wheat flour works like it does is a magic ratio of elements.  And the 70/30 ratio of whole grain to starch.  My mix was brown rice flour and potato starch (I had both on hand in amounts needed to make the blend).

For the actual pie recipe, I was thinking of actually attempting a rolled dough.  But I still have yet to replace my rolling pin (used on flour items before, and gluten hides in wood) and really, I know the reality of any time I try to roll out ANYTHING.  It end up shaped more like Texas than a circle.

Well, you have the ratio and weights and a kitchen scale, dummy, why not just try it on your favorite crust recipe??

Again... duh.

My favorite pie crust recipe is actually a pressed (not rolled) tart crust recipe from an older version of the Fanny Farmer cookbook.  It is the recipe my mother has used for years to make pecan pie, and it was the recipe I used when I moved out and started making pies on my own.  When I decided to buy my own copy of the cookbook I sadly learned it was not the same in current editions of the cookbook (the first copy I bought went to my mother-in-law, and I thankfully found a used copy that was the edition I needed).

I've also adapted the recipe to make more dough, since I always seemed to be a little short on dough.

I know my recipe calls for a cup and a half of wheat flour, which translates to 210 g of flour.  Measured that out from my flour mix.

Threw that into the Cuisinart, and pulsed a few times to mix up the flour.

Then comes 9 T of cold butter.

After I pulsed that for about 30 seconds, I added 2 egg yolks and pulsed for about another 30 seconds.

Kinda looks like panko, doesn't it?

At that point, I started to add ice water until it all started to come together and look like a dough.

After it looks like a dough, you can flop the stuff right into your pie pan, no rolling needed, and press it into shape.

Since I was making this and adding cooked fillings, I docked the bottom of the crust.  Then I threw it in the fridge to chill for an hour.

Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of the "just crust".  Although it took a little longer than the original recipe says, it looked like crust.  It smelled like crust.  It didn't crumble into pieces (and when I broke off a small piece just to taste, it tasted kinda like crust).

From there, it was time to work on the fillings.

What... everyone doesn't work off recipe notes on bright pink Post-It notes in their kitchen??  Well, since most of my recipes are digital. this is how I tend to work. 

Once I got the Black Bottom filling done, I sliced in two ripe bananas

When done, topped with the other filling, then put plastic wrap on top of it and put it in the fridge to chill.

Several hours later, I cut out a slice and topped it with whipped cream.

For the first time in over ten months, I've eaten a slice of pie.

And it was good.

Crust might be a little gritty.  My big issue with no-wheat flours is they all tend to be a little more gritty than soft wheat flour... don't know if more resting time for the dough would have helped that, but I do plan on trying that.

Gluten-Free Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

Flour mix - 70% brown rice flour, 30% potato starch

210 g flour mix
9 T butter
2 egg yolks
2-4 T cold water

Bake at 425 for 12-18 min  (original recipe called for 12 minutes, I cooked it for 18)

1 T cornstarch
2 T sugar
2 T cocoa powder
pinch salt
1/3 cup milk
1 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 ripe bananas, sliced
2 T cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 oz cream cheese, room temperature
whipped cream

  1. Mix the first five ingredients together and pour into a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Add the semi-sweet chocolate and mix until melted.  Pour into prepared crust.
  2. Top chocolate mixture with sliced bananas.
  3. Mix the cornstarch through milk together, and same as above, pour into a small sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Add 1/3 of the mixture to your cream cheese and beat together, then combine the two mixtures.  Pour on top of bananas.
  4. Cover the pie with cling wrap and chill.  Top with whipped cream before serving.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Duck Carnitas... again. In case you also want to go to there.

It is always nice when something so awesome good is also so damned easy.

Duck carnitas.  And you don't even have to make it as complicated as the original recipe.

Buy a whole duck.  If you're feeding more than about 3 people, you might also want to hunt down a few more duck legs for more meat.

If you need to section the duck yourself... it's really not that hard.  Most poultry can be broken down using just a good pair of poultry shears, and you cut the risks of harming yourself with a knife.  You need to cut out the spine, then you can cut the bird into halves, and then section out the breast from the leg portion.  And when you're doing it for the shredded meat, it really doesn't matter how pretty it is.

Season with some garlic cloves and a tablespoon or two of oregano, salt, then squeeze a lime over the top of the duck.

I usually let it marinate for at least a day. 

On what is usually the next evening, I will pull out the duck and put it in the slow cooker to cook overnight.  I also add a slab of salt pork.  Pork + duck is actually one of the flavors of a now-forbidden Chinese food favorite - pressed almond duck (sorry, anyone who avoids pork products who may now feel guilty about eating that now).

And hey... if you happen to have a half a quart of duck fat from the last time you made this... throw that in too!

Yeah... when the hubby saw me throwing THAT in there too, he said "I DON'T EVER WANT TO SEE HOW YOU MAKE THAT AGAIN BECAUSE NOW I KNOW IT IS BAD FOR ME BUT THEY ARE SO GOOD!".  Which pretty much sums it up.

I also do have the duck spine and neck in the bottom of the pot - makes it easier to fish out the cooked bits on top, and you do end up with some duck broth at the end of it all, so might as well use them.  Or just throw them in the freezer and use them (along with the duck bones when you are done) to make some stock.

I let that go overnight, and then as carefully as possible I fish out the legs and the breasts, and throw them in the fridge to deal with when I get home from work.

You should also save all that delicious duck fat... I usually strain off the solids and just throw the whole thing into the fridge.  The fat will come to the top, and on the bottom you have some duck broth.

Next, you need to pull off the skin as carefully as possible, since you will fry that up later.  Then you pull all the meat off the duck and shred that.

And this is the best part.  All that skin you peeled off?

You put a little duck fat into the bottom of your skillet, and then you fry up the skin until it is nice & crispy like good bacon.

The whole recipe would be worth it for that alone.  When I was making these, the hubby walked into the house in a sour mood (had to work late) but he immediately came over to the cooling/draining plate of duck skins, picked one up, took a bite and smiled.  All ills temporarily forgotten.

With the meat, you throw that into your skillet (with a little of the fat leftover from cooking the skins - I usually have to drain off a bit) and cook that, turning often, until it starts to get a little brown and crispy.

Now tell me that you don't want to slap some of that into a tortilla and start eating.  I know I love Duck Carnitas nights.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Yes Wheat-free Etouffee.

I love that commercial.  That is basically my favorite type of cooking.  Last week, it was veal stock (oh, can't run to the store, honey, I've got veal stock reducing on the stove.  Which pretty much means walking past it every 20 minutes, skimming off any skum, and not doing much else).  This week, it was a wheat-flour-less oven roux.

Etouffee needs a brown roux.  And a brown roux is very, very easy to make in an oven.  1 part oil (I also used some bacon fat) and 1 part flour.  I started with what I thought was a sohrgum flour blend, but one hour in went "wow, it smells like popcorn, I think I used my corn flour" so I added another non-wheat flour blend and some more oil.  Cooked it at 350 degrees and stirred it every 20-30 minutes until I got the color I wanted.

Cooked up some onion, red pepper (used my green pepper yesterday, oops!), celery and garlic.  Added a couple cups of shrimp stock I had in the freezer, and a cup of the veal stock from last weekend.  Let that simmer with some bay leaves and thyme, and tossed in some crawfish tails and green onion at the end.

Delicious.  Tasted like any other good etouffee.

I need it.

I haven't exactly been happy with food for the past few months.  My allergy to wheat is apparently extremely sensative.  I can't eat candy that has been made on the same lines where they have used any wheat.  Other things that seem to be fine for people with things like celiac are NOT okay for me.  And last Thursday and Friday I was having a reaction to something... the suspected culprit was a friggin' RICE CAKE.  From a package that labels them as wheat free, says they have no wheat where they make them, etc. etc.  Too bad that when they grow the rice for those cakes, they also use oats as a cover crop, and either the oats are tainted enough to impact folks or it's just a sensativity to oats sometimes comes along with wheat stuff... I donno.

When you can be felled by a rice cake, yeah... you might start to have issues with food.

Which is why I need to get back to doing things that are "so good, so easy".  Veal stock.  I can't recall the last time I made garlic confit.  Oven roux.  Simmered heavy cream for a sauce that can even make gluten-free pasta good.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why Foodies Should Care About Wheat/Gluten Food Labeling.

Wheat and Gluten are hot topics when it comes to food.  Yeah, it is a fad.  But for some of us, it is more serious.

I avoid some of the gluten-free events at the local Whole Paycheck simply because I'm not even-tempered enough to not have stabby thoughts overhearing conversations of people who are gluten-free as a fad, people who can fall off the wagon without a lot of ill effects.

You're making it harder for the world to take those of us who CAN NOT have wheat or gluten a lot harder.

In the gluten-free world, there was recently a kerfuffle over an idiot cook who posted on his Facebook page that he served regular pasta to people and told them it was "gluten-free".  And yes, for people who do it as a fad, they may not notice.  Do that to me?  I'd be sick for days.

Wheat/gluten allergies and celiac tend to fall somewhere between the extremes of peanut allergies and general food intolerance.  Most of us are not going to die if we accidentially have some exposure to wheat, but there is a reason we avoid the stuff.  I don't need to feel like I have hundreds of tiny mosquito bites on my hands (one thing that happens to me after I have wheat).  It does not kill me, but it is damned uncomfortable.

I've been doing this since September of last year.  And although I read labels and do my best... I have a reaction to something almost every week.  Flour is not always clearly labeled on food.  If the people making a product are lax with their vendors, they might be getting spices that are "stretched" with flour.  I have huge problems with candies that don't contain wheat but are also processed on the same equipment as candies with wheat ingredients.  I have two stainless steel pots that I can no longer use for myself since they have pretty much only been used to cook pasta for the past 15 years.

I would really, really like the FDA to step up and set some guidelines for gluten-free labeling.  It's not hard to figure out if something is gluten-free.  If you, as a producer, know all the sources and you know how your product is produced, it's not hard to determine if it is gluten-free or not.  If it is?  Great.  If it's not?  I really would rather know something is NOT safe even if it means I can no longer eat it.

Trader Joes used to be a favorite store of mine.  Not so much anymore.  To the fad gluten-free people or those who do not totally understand, it looks like they have a lot of gluten-free products because they stick a "no gluten ingredients" label on every product that they can.  Well, good, you didn't use wheat flour.  But did anyone make sure there were no grains of wheat in the lentils used to make this?  (Wheat grains in dried lentils happen)  Was this soup cooked in a pot that is also used to cook a soup with wheat noodles?  Are the sources of cornmeal and oats for this gluten-free?  (Those are two things notorious for getting contaminated during processing)  "No gluten ingredients" does not always mean gluten-free.  And labeling like that is NOT helping.

I just want food to be labeled as clearly as for other allergens.  And you should want it to.  Unless you're cooking totally from scratch, there are things in your food that they are not telling you about.  And it should make you mad, too.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Cinco de Mayo - Celebrate with Duck Carnitas!

It started with this recipe.

When I saw Rick Bayless do Duck Carnitas on his PBS show, my immediate cry was "I Want To Go To There!" ala Liz Lemon.

And boy, do you want to go to there too.

I did play around with the recipe a bit... I used a single whole duck (I find a whole duck usually feeds about 3 people).  If I wanted more meat,  I'd probably throw in a couple of extra duck legs with the whole duck.

I skipped the pork fat and went with a whole duck instead.  You can get a LOT of fat out of a whole duck, and frankly, with this wheat allergy thing, I was a bit uncomfortable trying to buy pork fat at the market.  I know they have it... they make their own pork carnitas on the weekend.  But I'm just paranoid that there could have been some wheat contamination I didn't know about.  Easier to just do my own whole duck and skip the pork fat.

On Tuesday night I quarted the duck and seasoned it with oregano, half the salt that is listed in the recipe, and some pepper.  Last night, I threw all the duck parts into the slow cooker, along with a handful of garlic cloves, set it to low, and let it cook overnight.

This morning, I fished out the duck parts and drained the liquid into another container, then stashed it all in the fridge.

Got home from work, then as carefully as I could, I peeled off the skin, and then pulled the meat apart into large chunks.  Then the magic really started.

You throw the skin into a skillet with a little duck fat, and let that crisp up.

Oh yeah... that is what I am talking about....

I had to drain off even more duck fat that rendered out of the skin, and then I tossed in the shredded meat and cooked that until it got all nice & brown & crispy on the edges....

Then it is just a matter of putting it on some corn tortillas with your favorite toppings (I went with some queso fresco, green taco sauce and some pickled shallot).


Really.... oh so very good.

Even better when washed down with a margarita.