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.