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.