Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Give A Little

Go on; it'll make a difference in some one's life.

Charity is always a popular concept around the holiday season. I still contend we need that spirit all year round. People don't stop needing just because December's over you know. But for our lazier personalities who live inside our generous ones, many opportunities present themselves over the holiday season for which you can volunteer your time and/or money to good causes.

I wanted to post about two easy ways to give this season and to challenge yourself to help those who may be in need:

1) The fabulous and always hysterical Jen who runs Cake Wrecks has decided to give to a different charity every day for two weeks. She's already started, but has urged all her readers to donate just $1 a day to the charities her and the hubby have chosen. I say, catch up with her and donate-a-long. It's a total of $14 by the end of two weeks from you, but if all of her readers did it... Start now, it's fun and hey if you've got more than $1, that's good too. For the full explanation and first day of givings, check out her post.


2) The amazing and sweet-as-pie Chez Pim is co-hosting Menu for Hope 6, a fantastic fundraiser that's gathering monies via raffling off unbelievable, I mean UNBELIEVABLE, prizes. Each electronic raffle ticket is only $1o and for what bloggers world-wide have donated, that's really not that much to fork over. For full explanations of the beneficiaries, the prizes, and anything else you need to know, visit Chez Pim's blogpost.

Giving is sometimes hard in hard economic times, but I was always told if you can only give a penny, give that penny. It's a penny someone else doesn't have. I also encourage everyone to keep feeling charitable throughout the year. Remember the whole people/organizations still need help after December thing? Well, keep remembering that.

As a side note, I promise to post some actual recipes soon (as I've been cooking up quite a storm, successful or not) but since we're approaching the holiday season I thought I'd take a moment to say, give a little.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Love... Earth Balance Soy-Free Spread

I knew I was allergic to soy at about the age of 12 or so when I ate some Tofutti at a Bar Mitzvah, and things did not go so well for me. This had never happened before with Tofutti. It was the same reaction I had gotten when I had tried to continue to eat fish at the age of 9 like I always had, but the Tofutti reaction was worse. From then on, I stayed away from tofu and isolated soy protein, but I let myself live in a fantasy world thinking that soy oils, soy lecithin, and soy sauce were different than soy protein. That is until two years ago when I took an actual allergy test (blood-test) as opposed to the oh so intuitive body-is-rejecting-it test and I learned just how allergic to soy I was. And it was a high number. I couldn't pretend it was okay to enjoy products laced with soy, and I now accept the risks when I occasionally ingest it, usually in the form of oil or lecithin. I'll admit it. It's the one allergy I have a hard time avoiding all-together because in the US, soy is in everything (especially commercial gluten-free baked goods/mixes.) It's as American as corn. Corn is also in just about everything. Hell, they're making cups, plates and silverware out of it now. According to most sources, soy is an excellent source of this and that, but it's also one of the top 8 allergens, and we can't ignore that what may be healthy for one individual is dangerous for another. I also believe this big conspiracy theory when it comes to price points, agriculture lobbying and the FDA and what ends up in our food or being praised as being good for you, but that's just my own brand of crazy.

When I was growing up, my family was totally into the health-food thing. When the sprays came out to replace greasers, we were all over that. When spreads came out to replace margarine, we were all over that too. Butter was a four letter word in my house. In fact, I'm pretty sure at one point in my little-girl mind I thought one bite of butter could give you a heart attack. I had to break my pre-conceived notions of butter about three or four years ago when I stopped to notice that vegetable oil had gone from blends to just being soy oil (in most cases) and spreads had all become soy oil-based. The soy was making me too ill to ignore it anymore. And thus I've learned how good fats in olive oil and yes even some organic butters and cheeses won't kill you; they might even improve your health.

I went home for Thanksgiving to cook a gluten, soy, corn and dairy free meal for the family. Wait, no dairy? What do you mean no dairy? This was a challenge for me. My parents are not meat/dairy mixers and I had to find another way of flavoring and greasing my dishes. I had olive oil and veggie broth at my disposal, but I really wanted the butter there too. THANK GOODNESS Earth Balance, a fantastic company producing buttery spreads to fill just about anyone's needs, recently came out with a soy-free spread. The spread is vegan and soy-free and can be used to do anything you would use normal butter for. The nutritional facts are comparable to that of 365 organic unsalted butter; however Earth Balance Soy-Free has less saturated fat and instead replaces it with some good fats. Earth Balance Soy-Free also does contain some sodium which obviously unsalted butter does not contain. All in all, this is a revelation for allergic bakers and cooks I think. I can attempt dairy-free baked goods easier than before and certainly without any concern for soy being present.

I thank Earth Balance for noticing that they had a gap in their massive product line and continuing to strive to serve all consumers, whatever their needs. Every time I bake with you when I'm home in December, I'll smile.

*Fantastic allergy chart on their website too showing they care about you and disclose info!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I'm Sick so it must be November or December

Without fail I become ill the first chance my body has to rest. This usually takes place during holiday breaks from work either around Thanksgiving or December break (which you non-Jews call the Christmas holidays.) I think this is because I'm a go, go, go kind of person, within reason. I work full days, I have hobbies that I exercise in the evenings and I tend to pack my weekends with errands and seeing friends. I can't get sick when I'm so busy all the time; it's just inconvenient. But well, because my sleep schedule got all messed up between the red-eye home for Thanksgiving, Black Friday madness and never really adjusting. It also didn't help that my office has become a bit rife with sickness itself, and since I'm at work, I'm sure I'm just perpetuating the problem.

Thanksgiving was a great success though, and I can't wait to tell you all about it. I'd just like to wait until this very tiny, evil man in my head stops hitting my brain repeatedly with a very large mallet. Then I might be able to focus long enough to write something a bit more useful than this whine-fest.

See you soon!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Let's Get Ready to Gobble!!!!

You got me again Mr. Holiday, you tricky tricky beast. Here you are, and here comes my need to share a social food-based gathering with the loved ones. Why am I not worried about this though? Because I insisted on cooking Thanksgiving. If you have an amazing, supportive family like I do, they're down for letting you make Thanksgiving your way.

I'd like to take a moment to thank my mother, just about a Saint, who has to shop/prep for the Thanksgiving meal since I arrive home early on Thursday morning (yay redeye flights.) I was on the phone with her for a total of 2-3 hours this weekend explaining ingredients to her and then having her read ingredients to me while at the supermarket when she was unsure if a product was safe. This was after a detailed email. There was a lot of preparation for this since I haven't really been home all that much since I've had to give up eating the "normal" way. She remarked to me about how challenging it must be for me to shop for food; she was exhausted from running between 3 grocery stores and frustrated from being unsure what was 100% safe or good to consume. She also saw, maybe for the first time, how unnecessarily random ingredients were thrown into certain foods when we tried to find me a balsamic vinaigrette without gluten or soy (you'd be surprised.) So Mom, one of the things I'm definitely thankful for is you and how hard you've worked to let me make you a meal that could be safe for all of us, and how hard you always work to help your kids out (and anyone else who may need help on the way.)

Now that we can stop cuing the violins, I'll continue. I hate to say it, but I feel most comfortable eating when I can control how it's made. This makes me sound like a control freak, but when you're trying to stay away from sooooooooo many ingredients it really just puts your mind at ease. That's probably why a lot of allergic and intolerant folks dread going to restaurants and social occasions such as dinner parties for fear of either getting sick or being the allergic one who sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure it's fun to be on the other end of gentle teasing, "Geez, Suz, you can't eat anything!" but it's only so much fun until it starts giving you a complex. If I couldn't eat anything, I would have nothing to blog about ;) I love cooking. And I love cooking Thanksgiving. It's definitely my favorite holiday to make!

I'm going to be experimenting with a mostly grain-free menu this year, the exception being a fantastic stuffing I'm trying for the first time courtesy of the genius Shauna at glutenfreegirl and her blog. Because I will be doing the other recipes from scratch and on the fly, I will post them after Thanksgiving. After all, I'm not going to post anything I haven't tested. The other challenge is my parents are kosher. We're eating turkey so no that means no dairy. Me adding cheese or butter for enhanced flavoring are out. I take this as a welcome challenge and am surprised that I was able to find a soy-free, dairy-free butter substitute (thank you Earth Balance.) I will use that substitute, veggie broth, or olive oil plus seasonings to make the flavors shine through. I have a good feeling about it :)

I went through my blog and found some recipes that could be a welcome alternative addition to a Thanksgiving table. Good luck for good cookin' all ;)

Soup:

Side:

Dessert:

Beverage:

Leftover Ideas:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Comforty Comfort Food

After coming back from the amazing Foodbuzz festival (which I have yet to blog about, I know, bad blogger) and seeing all this gourmet and fantastically choreographed food presentation I wanted down-home country comfort food. Don't ask me why. This should prove my questionable foodie status: I ate all this fouffy, high-fashion food and all I could think when I came home is I could really go for some Cracker Barrel. I'm a bit of a disgrace, aren't I?

My best friend used to go to Cracker Barrel a lot growing up, and I often joined her and her family on said outings. Cracker Barrel is most certainly one of the least GF, perhaps allergy friendly, restaurants on the planet I'd imagine. There's flour, dough, and gravy at every turn and being someone who likes comfort food, I sopped it all up with a biscuit every time. When I think back to what I was actually ingesting, I get a little sick thinking of all the lard and chemicals I was throwing into my body. But I digress...

My favorite dish at Cracker Barrel was Chicken & Dumplings. You couldn't visually tell the chicken from the dumplings because it was all buried in some creamy gravy of some sort, but I loved that dish. And add a biscuit on the side and I was in heaven! I really wanted that dish when I returned home. I really wanted that dish and knew I couldn't have it. So how can I re-create this dish to be a comfort food for my restrictions? I'm glad I asked.

What I did was make a Chicken & Biscuits Casserole. It could also be a mock pot pie if you used a double crust (I suppose) but I enjoy making casseroles. This was generally easy to prepare and an EXCELLENT dish to create with leftover turkey after Thanksgiving, which I hear is coming up pretty soon. To make the biscuits, I used the GF Waffle & Pancake Mix from The Cravings Place which makes all sorts of GF, allergy free mixes. This particular mix was free of just about everything, except for corn (think of it as a last hurrah.) I did choose to use butter instead of shortening, which adds back dairy as well. If you're using this mix, I would also suggest adding seasoning or cheese perhaps, because although the mix holds up very well, it tends to taste a little doughy. If you want to make your own biscuit dough from scratch, go for it! Just make sure you start with at least 2 cups of dry mix in your recipe so you have enough to cover the whole dish. Ready for some fake country cookin' y'all?

Chicken & Biscuits Casserole



Ingredients:
2 lbs boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs (or 2 lbs leftover poultry cooked)
1 cup 365 Garlic Chicken Broth divided (or Cream of ___ Soup, this soup had no soy so it won)
2 cups veggies, defrosted from frozen or fresh (I used organic peas, green beans)
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped or diced
2 cups Cravings Place All Purpose Waffe & Pancake Mix
1 cup water
6 tbsp butter or shortening
salt & pepper to taste
Herbes de Provence or Poultry Seasoning to taste
olive oil

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Brown chicken in large pan greased with olive oil over medium heat (if you're using leftover meat, obviously skip this step.)
Grease a 9x13 dish with olive oil and spread 1/2 cup broth on the bottom of the dish.
When chicken is browned, remove from pan and arrange on broth in dish.
Salt and Pepper chicken to taste (I used some awesome truffle salt I brought back from Italy)
In the same pan you were browning the chicken, saute veggies and onion until tender.
Add veggies over and around chicken.
Season to taste with Herbes de Provence or Poultry Seasoning, and another round of salt/pepper.
Pour 1/2 cup of broth over the mixture and cover with foil.


Cook mixture in the oven at 350 degrees covered for 25 minutes.

While that's cooking, prepare biscuit topping by combing the Cravings Place mix with water and butter.
Optional: Season biscuit batter with cheese (parmesan or cheddar), savory herbs, salt/pepper, and/or crushed garlic.

After 25 minutes, remove the chicken mixture from the oven.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Take biscuit batter and use your palms to form flat circles about the size of your palms.
Layer flat circles to cover the entire 9x13 dish of chicken mixture, edge to edge.


Place biscuit covered dish back in the oven uncovered for 20 minutes.
Shut oven off and let casserole sit in oven 10-15 minutes.


Remove, eat, and wonder why you ever missed gravy-slathered junk food from a truck stop diner.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tacolicious- Foodbuzz Street Food Fare Find

Hey there again. I know I have lots of blogging to do about the Foodbuzz Festival (true, true) so why not start here?

Tacolicious is a fantastic creation and a labor of love for all who are involved, and it can be gluten-free friendly (beware of beer braised chicken GF friends.) Anyways, aside from them making delicious, and I do mean delicious tacos, they are starting up "T-Lish Tuesdays" at the Laïola restaurant in San Francisco.

If any of you are in the San Francisco area tonight, you should definitely check them out! For more info check their blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tested: Betty Crocker GF Yellow Cake Mix

I got back from the UK at the end of August and since then, I have this box of Betty Crocker GF Yellow Cake Mix staring me in the face. I don't know why I've been putting off trying it. Bloggers left and right were trying the mix, apprehensive as we all were that it would truly be GF, but none of us got sick (from what I've read.)

When I went back to re-read the ingredients, I was happily surprised to notice there were no corn products, as I'm largely cutting back on/phasing out my corn consumption for a time. This made it easier for me to crack open the cardboard and ready the mix for a trial run. Let's discuss how I feel about the mix, noting that I am ECSTATIC a mainstream baking enterprise like Betty Crocker got involved in being aware of the gluten-free growing population, though I may be less enthusiastic about this particular mix.

Pros:
1) The mix is relatively easy to make, just as a mix is supposed to be.
2) The product looked like regular cake product when produced, fooling any non-GF person you may be trying to trick into tasting a GF good.
3) I added some pumpkin and chocolate chips like I would into a regular mix and it came out fine.

Cons:
1) Although the mix is easy to make with a few additions, it calls for an entire stick of butter and 3 full eggs. Now I didn't try substituting applesauce/oil for butter or egg whites for eggs because I didn't want to throw the chemistry completely off. The no butter recipe on the BC website calls for shortening, none of which I could find without soy. If I could find a way to cut the butter down, I'd be a bigger fan.
2) The consistency of the cake wasn't quite what I'd expected. BC mixes produce moist, light, fluffy results. I figured that the GF of it all would make the cake denser or perhaps a tad gritty. There was no grit in the final taste, however the cake was dense. But like really dense. Like I felt I was eating a dense cake donut dense; I had to jump up for a glass of lactaid milk. Now I love cake donuts, don't misunderstand, but I expected it to be more birthday cake than dense donut. Although, I might have found a good baked donut mix ;)

Not really bad/Not really good:
1) I thought the batter looked weird. You could see a lot of the gritty textured granules staring you right in the face which led me to be prepared for a gritty texture. Since there wasn't a gritty texture I was both pleasantly surprised and equally annoyed I had expected it because of the batter.

So all and all, the mix was pretty good, but I have to say I've had better. And I might have even made better. Again, I'm more than excited that Betty Crocker took the time and effort to acknowledge there is a market out there for GF products, however, I just wish the product had been something of a Betty Crocker non-GF caliber.



Monday, November 9, 2009

Fall Filling

I just got back from Foodbuzz's 1st Annual Blogger Festival in San Francisco and I can't wait to post about all the amazing foods and beverages I got to taste and learn about. I'm still buzzin' high off of the sensory overload of eating and drinking for about 2 days straight. But first things first- a recipe for you dear reader.

A couple weeks back, I was finally ready to experiment with doing rice paper raviolis. I was ready. However, the markets were not. It was a particularly busy weekend and even though I tried to plan out my shopping well, I ended up with all of my filling ingredients and none of the rice paper. You see, everywhere I went (and I went to about 4 Asian markets and 2 grocery stores) they were out of true rice paper, the kind without glutinous flour. I still don't even understand where all the rice paper went because there were no major holidays that weekend that could have caused a shortage. But I digress...

Plan B was going to use the filling for a veggie lasagna with eggplant, but the eggplants did not look good at the store I was at when I came up with that solution. By the time I decided I could make it with zucchini (we'll call this Plan C,) I was in a grocery store that didn't have zucchini and while I'd like to say I drove to another store, I was beat, and returned home. I knew I had some quinoa pasta in the house and I figured I'd do a baked pasta with the filling (Plan D.) One day, I will make you raviolis. One day...

The important moral of this Plan A-D story is not to give up. When you're working off your own mental recipes, which I do a lot, you often have to let what's available alter the course of the meals you make. Was Plan D my intended use of this filling? No. But was Plan D just as good with this filling? The answer is yes.

The filling turned out delicious. My tongue would say it's a celebration of the sweet fall flavoring of it's star- butternut squash. Butternut squash is one of my favorite fall flavors, and in my opinion, is absolutely classic to American autumnal cooking. This is a super easy and quick filling to make and you can go semi-homemade by using some store bought sauce if you're having a hectic week. And although the filling is nice and gluten-free for me, it can be used for manicotti, ravioli, lasagna, or baked ziti be it GF or non-GF.

Fall Filling
for Pastas of all Kinds


Ingredients:
15 oz ricotta cheese, part skim or regular
1-1.25 lb butternut squash, cubed
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tbs dried basil
2 tsp crushed garlic (I use Trader Joe's jar of crushed garlic)
1 cup Quattro Formaggio cheese blend (Trader Joe's has my fave)
1 cup tomato sauce, homemade or store bought
1 lb ground turkey, optional

Directions:
Place squash in a steaming basket of a large pot, filled with about an inch of water.
Steam squash covered for about 20-25 minutes until soft.
*If you choose to add the meat, brown ground turkey with olive oil in a large pan.
*During the browning, add salt, pepper, basil and garlic.
*If you choose not to add the meat, we'll just add the spices to the mixture later...
When squash is done, mash in a large bowl with a masher or fork.
Add ricotta, seasoning, cheese, and sauce and stir until well incorporated.
Taste. If the seasoning or sauce in the mix is less than you'd like, play with the balance and find what does!! I tend to like a little less sauce and a little more garlic myself ;)

This makes a nice amount of filling. I think it will fill a medium lasagna, especially if you're adding more cheese, and would make a tray of stuffed shells or manicotti. Let's just say I had baked pasta for a while. A long while. But a tasty long while.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I Love... Hint Water

Tell me why did it take me going to a Whole Foods in the UK to find a bottled water manufactured in San Francisco? One that is actually flavored but I still love?! If you don't know about Hint Waters, you have to immediately, and here's why:

Being someone who has passed her fair share of kidney stones, I can't begin to relay the amount of water I'm supposed to drink on a daily basis. But we're talking liters here. Liters of water. Though I am very lucky to actually enjoy water over most other common beverages one would choose to drink with meals or in between, there comes a point where you really wish you were drinking something else. For me, I always crave fruit juice next after craving water. Unfortunately for me, I'm supposed to stay low on vitamin C and it remains extremely difficult to find natural juices that haven't been "enhanced" with 100% of your daily dose of C. Especially for under $10. So what's a girl to do when she wants fruit juice but needs to satisfy her water requirements?

Naturally I jumped right into finding a flavored water. But I can't have vitamin water. They all have unnecessary amounts of vitamin C. And other popular "fruit" waters have tons of sugar and chemicals to boot. Who wants to drink that?

The first time I saw Hint, I was skeptical. Great, another fruit-flavored water I can't drink! I thought. And I was very, very wrong. The company uses essences of fruit to naturally flavor and fragrance their waters with no significant nutritional side effects. Hint has no sugars or chemicals, no enhanced vitamin levels, and no preservatives. Hint does have A-MAZ-ING flavor.

And so I'm sharing my love of Hint with you. Two of my favorite flavors of those I've tried are Watermelon and Honeydew Hibiscus because their mild sweetness pairs well with whatever you may be eating without interfering too much with the flavors, and they are super refreshing after a work-out.

Hint doesn't know of my passion for them, but now maybe they will! And maybe all of you will go out and try their water because I think it may just rock your world like it rocked mine ;)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Quick & Easy Side: Quinoa w/Cranberries

Oh fall. Your flavors, your colors, your products... how I love thee? I tell you how I love thee. I put some of your flavors into my quinoa. Well, mostly one flavor. Hello Mr. Cranberry. How'd you like to be a part of my Q&E dinner this week? Oh, you would?! I'm ecstatic!

Okay, enough with the crazy. My Quick & Easy dinner this week is truly enjoyable. Quinoa, my Q&E side, is a star super-food (one I'm not allergic to either.) With about 8 grams of protein per serving, your side isn't just a starchy, sugary, grainy mess. Nope, this bad boy is going to give you energy and fuel your brain, and Lord knows I need brain-fuel when I get home from a long day at work. Don't you?

Good thing this side dish takes at most 30 minutes to make including chopping efforts, and things can be accomplished while the quinoa is cooking. Multi-tasking in the kitchen is a sure-fire way to keep things Quick & Easy!

Now I'm giving you flavor options with the below recipe and here's why: every one's tastes are different. If you like your cranberries more sour with a punch, you'll probably want to add less agave to your mix. If you like only sweet cranberries, you'll want to add more. Remember, taste as you go to make sure the recipe is incorporating what pleases your flavor palate. Same goes for any time I put salt and pepper to taste. If you're not sure how much to use, simply add 1/4 or 1/2 tsp at a time until you find a balance that you're at peace with.

Quinoa with Cranberries
picture coming and it's pretty

Ingredients:
1 cup dry red quinoa
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2-3 handfuls of organic fresh cranberries (I have small hands so I used 3)
1 medium/large zucchini (diced or chopped into long slivers)
2 big slices of white onion (diced or chopped into long slivers)
1-2 tbs agave nectar
1/2 tbs rosemary
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
sea salt
black pepper
olive oil

Directions:
In a medium pot, combine the quinoa and broth.
Bring the pot to a boil, then simmer covered for 15-20 minutes or until broth is absorbed.
In a large pan coated with olive oil, add cranberries and coat with agave over low heat
**As cranberries heat, they split open. If you keep your pan over medium to high heat, you'll force them to burst open which is a bit more messy.
When all the cranberries have split and seem to be cooking nicely, add zucchini and onions and raise the heat to medium, making sure you saute/stir the combo regularly.
Add garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste when the vegetables start to get tender.
When the mixture looks nice and incorporated (the veggies are tender and the cranberries cooked down a bit) remove from heat. By this time, the quinoa will be ready.
Combine the quinoa and cranberry mixture in whatever bowl you plan to serve/store it in and enjoy!

Tip: You may notice that I cooked my quinoa in broth for this recipe. It's true, quinoa is a super food, however, it doesn't have all that much flavor on it's own. For me quinoa alone is a cooking base, a sponge if you will, that will absorb the flavors you throw in there. In order to enhance the flavors of the dish while attempting to keep a balance, I try to cook the quinoa in a little something that will add a dimension to the dish. For example, if you try to add extra cranberries for flavor instead, what would probably happen is you would overpower all the other flavors in the dish. Yes, it would be more full of flavor, but it'd be full of only one flavor. Using the broth is a subtle way of bringing the quinoa alive, before you start to doctor it. So if you're bored with quinoa or you've never found it all that appealing, try cooking it with broth instead of water and see if you like it better. Good luck!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

YWPWT: Masquerade Pie

Boo!

Did I scare you? Did I?

I didn't?!

Oh, come on...

So here's the theme for this month's You Want Pies With That challenge, brought to us by the deliciously creative minds of Mary at alpineberry and Jeanette of Jeanette's Mommy Musings.
You can conceal your pie's secret identity (with a robe of dark chocolate, maybe?) or disguise your pie as one thing when it's really something else (like a mock apple pie deceptively made with Ritz crackers instead of apples). You can use a mysterious, unusual or surprising ingredient in your pie or if you're more inclined to step out from behind the mask, you can reveal a secret recipe or technique.

I was really not sure what to do for this pie. My pie has a secret identity? What is it? And why isn't telling me what it's supposed to be dammit!! My head was twirling with all the possibilities the pie could be, and not be. I ended up with a pie actually wearing a costume, thus wearing a mask. It's also hiding a secret filling/crust combo and using an unusual/surprising ingredient. So I guess being confused made me take all the guidelines and suggestions for this pie and put them to use. I think that my result is hauntingly delicious and frighteningly adorable. I hope you like it too.

Ghostly Good Pie

Isn't it Boo-Tiful?

1) Crust

Ingredients:
GF Brownie Mix or GF Brownie Recipe

Directions:
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a deep dish pie plate.
Prepare mix or recipe as directed and spread into pie plate, shaping into a crust.
Bake for 15-25 minutes.
Set aside and cool.

2) Filling

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh or frozen (defrosted) strawberries, hulled and cut in half length-wise.
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs cornstarch

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over high heat.
Bring to a boil while shmushing the strawberries down. (yes, shmushing is a technical term)
Simmer and stir for 2-5 more minutes until nice and gelled together.
Pour over crust and set aside to cool.

3) Ghost Face Mask

Ingredients:
Fondant, pre-bought or homemade (tons of recipes online)

Directions:
Roll out white fondant and cut into a circular shape to cover your pie.
Cut out a cute ghost face.
Carefully lay the fondant on top of the cooled filling.
Make a cute pinched skirt for the ghost face to make it look like its floating through the air.
Admire how adorable your pie is!

So from looking at my ghost face pie, can you tell it's hiding a chocolate brownie crust? Can you tell that my ghost is hiding a secret evil interior (aka red strawberry filling)? Can you tell that I used fondant which defies all logic when pie-making since fondant is typically a cake and candy accoutrement? Can you tell that my pie is in fact a pie and not a ghost?

Most of all though, can you tell that my pie is allergy friendly? Nope, you can't! Because it tastes like awesome pie, gluten and soy be damned!!

Please check out what the other A-MAZ-ING bloggers did here.


**Note, apparently this is a pie far cuter than it is tasty. The filling/crust combo is great, but I think there's a reason we don't eat fondant with pie hehe. Just being honest if you're trying this at home!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!! Who wants brownies?!



Hello all,

In the great spirit of Halloween, I thought I'd make a super easy treat to bring in for my office mates. I really like Halloween, whatever it may be that you associate it. If your thing is scary movies, you have your fill playing 24 hours a day. If you like dressing like a monster, or slutty fill-in-the-blank, or any excuse to wear face paint, you have your perfect day. If you are a secret hoarder of mini candy bars, get ready to unabashedly indulge your sugar rush.

I like all of the above. Well, that's almost true. I actually get way too scared when watching horror flicks and abhor face paint, but I do love zombie flicks, Rocky Horror, and chocolate :)

Back to the recipe then. You can decide how far you want to take this. It can either be a semi-homemade treat that takes no longer than 45 mins to an hour to complete prep to cool, or a fully from scratch ordeal. Whatever you choose, it's a sure crowd-pleaser. Are you ready witches and warlocks?

Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies


Ingredients:
GF Brownie Mix or GF Brownie Recipe
8 oz light cream cheese
3/4 cup organic pumpkin
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg or egg sub
splash of vanilla

Directions:
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease an 8x8 square pan.
Prepare GF Brownie Mix or GF Brownie Recipe following directions, and pour into pan.
In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, egg and vanilla with a mixer until well blended.
Pour cheesecake mixture over brownie batter.
Cook for 30-50 minutes (depending on your oven.)
Cool and try not to eat them all at once okay?

Love the orange and black goodies and so will your allergic/non-allergic counterparts. Have a Happy Halloween and stay safe folks!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Love... Kinnikinnick

Ladies and gentlemen, before I left the country several months ago, I had never seen Kinnikinnick products in my Whole Foods. In fact, I had never even heard of their products. As I reacquainted myself with the grocery store upon my return to the USA, I did my due diligence searching high and low for new GF products that I could eat.

One thing I had noticed being in the UK, there was an overwhelming amount of GF and allergy-free food available. I had gotten particularly attached to Dietary Specials Deep Dish GF Pizza which became a Friday night staple with my hectic work schedule. I guess I complain about missing Chinese take-out a lot, but the other big ticket item I miss is pizza. I sooooo miss pizza. Yeah, cake was good, but so is GF cake. Pizza just has this thing, this crispy-warm-chewy thing that's hard to reinvent as GF. The GF pizza that's available in the frozen food section usually uses one of the 3 no no's for me: soy flour, chickpea flour, or almond meal. I kind of gave in to the fact that unless I got down with my own cornmeal crust, I should just forget frozen pizza all together.

And that's when I saw you Kinnikinnick pizza crusts. I figured, what the hell? I'll try something new. Well worth it folks; well worth it. The edges crisp up crunchy, the slightly sweet crust dusted with cornmeal really compliments any sauce/tomato combination you have going on, and though the middle tends to be a bit soft and at times dare I say a tad soggy, I have to say the overall flavor is wonderful. It reminds me of the square slices of pizza I used to get in the roller skating rink years ago when they still had those. You know, the ones where people skated on four wheels, in a rectangular shape on the bottom of the skate?

Basically, Kinnikinnick returned me to the bliss of topping my own pizza crust and thus started my journey into their products. I have to say, Montana's Chocolate Chip Cookies are insanely good and I eat them frozen (because they're not that hard) and they taste like chips ahoy! I must warn that those do have soy lecithin in them, but sometimes I just have to suffer because they're amazing. Their muffins are good breakfasts in a jam if you don't bake your own ( I do bake my own, but just had to try them) and I've heard raves of their hamburger and hotdog buns.

When I went to their website today though, I saw the other thing that I miss since going GF. My top 3: Chinese take-out, Pizza, and Doughnuts. The trifecta of healthy eating right? I'm starting to think it was good I went GF if for no other reason than the sake of my hips ;)

Yes, that's right. Kinnikinnick are making Maple Glazed Donuts and they're not only GF, but they're Dairy and Soy free too!!!! I think I just jumped out of my skin there for a moment. I'm going to my local Whole Foods this weekend and begging them to stock a couple of shelves of those bad boys.

I only wish we had the full line of Kinnikinnick products in my store, but please check them out. They're making delicious allergy conscious foods convenient for those of us who cook for the weekdays but like easy weekends (who me?).

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Kinnikinnick,

Feel free to spoil me with your products anytime you want!

Love,
Suz

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Call to Action: Spelt Is Not Gluten Free

Those of you who are either Celiac, Pre-Celiac, or have been warned to stay away from gluten or else probably already know that Spelt is not gluten free. Let me say that again: Spelt is NOT gluten free.

When I first went GF, people offered me things made with spelt. I said no thank you because I had done my research and found that spelt is not okay to eat on a gluten free diet. "Oh come on," they would say. "It's not wheat flour!" Oh no dear friends; it's derived from wheat. This brings me to another point: Just because a flour is an alternative flour does not mean it is a gluten free flour.

These seem like basic things to say. Especially if my readers are allergic readers, so let me explain what's causing me to post this reminder.

Every now and then, I do a quick keyword search for gluten free food in my area, usually on Yelp or Google. Since more and more people have been diagnosed with Celiac or have become gluten intolerant, there are more options popping up every day for allergic eaters. But dear reader while clicking on some of the restaurant reviews and glowing recommendations for these "new options," I was shocked and dismayed. People were raving about gluten free pastries, crepes, and breads all made from Spelt. How can this be folks if Spelt is NOT gluten free?

I don't know if it's just a matter of poor self-education/research, or misdirection of the proprietors of these establishments (and I hope it's not the latter) but somehow people are not understanding that they could be putting themselves in danger by eating Spelt. These were different reviewers, attending countless different shops, and yet they all were eating their "gluten free" spelt goods (which as covered, were not gluten free.)

So what does this mean? What does it mean that out of every 10 or 20 places at least 35%-50% of the reviewers marked Spelt goods as gluten-free?

It means we need to do a better job. We as people, we as allergics, we as retailers and restaurateurs, we as mothers, teachers, friends, advisers and nutritionists. We need to do a better job and be active in our research, diligent in our knowledge of what is okay and not okay to ingest, and we need to be friends to our allergics (even if we're not allergic ourselves) and not offer them Spelt goods which are not, NOT gluten free because we've done the research.

It's so easy to be lazy nowadays. G-d, I'm so guilty of that sometimes! But we can't get lazy with our health. If we get lazy with our health, you know what happens? We don't have us anymore. We have sick us. And we all know that sick us is not fun or happy us.

Today, I urge you to be an educator. It can be as easy as when someone asks you why you can't eat something, you telling them specifically why. Maybe me just saying no thank you wasn't enough. Maybe me saying instead, thanks, but spelt isn't gluten free and I can't have gluten would have stopped them from trying to serve spelt as a gluten free alternative. We're taught it's not polite to question the host or hostess of a dinner party or get together, but what's more important: being safe and healthy or being polite? I say give details! Tell people what you can't eat, but more importantly why you can't eat it. Maybe then I won't see so many people ecstatic over erroneously gluten free goods.

Thanks for listening to my rant and continue eating safely :)


Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Feel Like I Write These Posts A Lot...

Yes, it's me again. After a bit of an absence. I feel like I've been writing these "apologies for not blogging" blogs at least once a month. Ahhh, the life of a working stiff. But this time I do have a good reason, albeit a rather repetitive one.

I'm moving!

What? How can I be moving again you ask? Well, I came back from the wonderful UK and my tiny studio with my tiny, tiny kitchen just felt- well, tiny. I need more space. I need a bigger kitchen. And ta-da folks, I am getting one!!!

I'm moving next weekend (not this weekend) and I'm very excited about it. I'm so excited that I even started pre-packing when I signed the lease a week ago. And that's not all. Instead of a galley kitchen I will now have a U-shaped kitchen with a beautiful, one-year old, almost never used digital oven.

Now those of you who have been living in modern times for years may snicker at this ovation for a new appliance, but those of us who rent in the perils of Southern California know all too well you will often get crappy used appliances from the 1970s and they won't function well. Experimental cooking is hard enough without having an oven that doesn't heat evenly or a stove that either cooks on high heat or nothing at all.

I'm hoping that with actual counter space I can now try out recipes that involve *gasp* rolling things out or copious amounts of chopped goods. I have thoughts swirling through my head and I cannot wait to christen that baby.

What am I doing for food as I hopelessly try to empty out my fridge so I can unplug it? The easy nutritious way out for me is corn tortilla quesadillas aka Mexican grilled cheese. How can there be anything easier in this world than heating up two corn tortillas with shredded light cheese inside? There isn't. In less than 5 minutes I have dinner, and have successfully avoided buying new groceries for this week and next.

In the meantime, I'm trying to dwindle down what is left in my fridge that would perish if taken out. I've come to the conclusion that I unnecessarily refrigerate all sorts of things like spices, salt, pepper, flour, and sugars. I think it's because my mom used to do this, possibly fearing the wrath of South Florida ants. Does anyone else do this too?

I can't wait to share with you dear reader the joys of experimental, low-allergy cooking in a bigger environment. But I do still have a backlogged recipe to post. I must be taking my lazy pills... It's coming I swear!

Fall is my very favorite season to cook in, so best you believe I have some stellar recipes coming your way. Just give me two more weeks :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

S'MAC me, I must be dreaming!

I really need to stop with the puns. I think in the long run, it just makes me look a tad ridiculous.

Well all, I'm back from NY, and though I didn't have much time to gallivant around the city (you gotta work when you gotta work) I was able to try a couple of restaurants that were new to me and GF friendly.

The first place I tried was Lili's 57, an Asian restaurant with an entirely separate GF menu. Well how exciting is that! You have read my many desires to recreate the flavors of certain Asian foods, Chinese take-out especially, and here is my very own menu guide to the bliss I have been searching for. Here's the good news: the manager and waiter that were answering all my questions at the register really understood my concerns and answered all of my questions without one iota of irritation. Here's the bad news: the menu was GF, but they used GF soy sauce. Now, I'm still allergic to soy, so soy sauce is a no go for me. They said they could make a few items without it though.

I ordered Saigon Rolls as an appetizer: avocado, mango, cucumber, rice noodles, and mint wrapped in a rice wonton skin. That could have been my meal alone. It was a good thing I hadn't eaten lunch that day and I was starving because the roll, cut into 5 nice sized chunks, was a lot to handle. All the ingredients tasted very fresh and delicious, and I wasn't sad to forgo the soy-laced sauce.

Next, I had Chicken Fried Rice which they said they could whip up without soy sauce for me. Sometimes without the soy sauce, you'll notice Chicken Fried Rice doesn't always taste like itself. In this case however, it tasted just like how I remembered it, only better! I don't know what it was (maybe the fact I wasn't making it low-fat at home) but it was just heavenly for me.

Also, there are a few Asian restaurants like this sprinkled around the city with oddly enough the same GF menu, so if you're not in the neighborhood, you're not out of luck! Now if only they'd had a GF fortune cookie. Sigh, you can't have everything...

The second place I was able to try is not a new or unknown joint to New Yorkers: S'MAC, the glory of an all mac n' cheese establishment. Now I know what you're thinking. It's not hard to make mac n' cheese at home. Hell, there's GF pasta, GF cheese, GF breadcrumbs. Yes, that's all true. But I'm not an expert in mac n' cheese. And I don't own an iron skillet. These two things make a big, big difference when craving the proper mac n' cheese experience. Plus, I had my awesome friend with me, who I do not normally have at home!

I ordered the Napoletana, which is fresh mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, and fresh basil all with brown rice macaroni. After one bite I knew that this is what dreams were made of folks. My mac n' cheese was sensational!! Each burst of creamy goodness mixed with just the right spicing never once gave away I was eating brown rice pasta (I prefer quinoa usually.) I only wish (daily) that I could take the good folks of S'MAC and convince them to open a store in Southern California. If only...

If you are out there S'MAC, we need you!! And we're sunnier ;)

So that's what I got to try on my very, very brief trip to NYC. I hope to be back within the year for some heavy tasting, but for now this will have to do.

I only wish that restaurants here regularly recognized allergies as well as they seem to now be doing in places like NYC and Chicago. I know we'll get there one day...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I'm going to NY! And in the near future...

It's for a quick business trip, but don't worry dear reader. I've mapped out tons of yummy GF and regular restaurant options that I hope to fully review (if they're worthy) in an upcoming I still love eating in NY blog.

I just wanted to share my happiness with you as its one of my favorite cities to eat in on the planet!

I'm also looking forward to throwing out my two-cents on a couple of GF products I've discovered now that I'm back in the states. There are a few more options than when I left, so I know we're making progress people. And like everyone else, I've got an upcoming GF Betty Crocker cake mix review.

Get ready folks; I'm about to get my criti-sizzle on.

Yes, I just typed criti-sizzle.

Monday, September 7, 2009

YWPWT: Holy Cannoli!!

Helloooooooo USA!! It's good to be back in the good ol' country of pie plates and readily available baking ingredients. And what better way to celebrate my homecoming than with September's entry for You Want Pies With That! This month's theme comes from my dear friend and genius cook at Piccante Dolce. Vacation Pie. This one's super easy and fun, just bake a pie that is "inspired by a vacation you have taken or hope to take."

Uh, did someone say vacation? Because the last vacation I took was in Florence, Italy. Yep, you heard me. And you can read all about the best meal I've ever had in my life here. I had the most amazing time in Florence. I saw The David and illegally took a non-flash photo of it (what? everyone else was too) I strolled the bridges in the glow of dusk, I nearly killed myself on a 26 mile bike ride that was supposed to be a "leisurely" tour of the Chianti region, and I accidentally bought a leather jacket. I also got asked out by several Italian men from age 16 to age 60 and got proposed to twice. Don't you just love it ;)

So Italy in general is known for amazing food, classically beautiful marriages of flavors, and nothing but the most outrageous desserts. I swear I ate gelati every single day I was there. Okay, maybe twice a day. Hey, I was on vacation. I struggled for a bit when I had to come up with just one Italian dessert to inspire my pie, but then I took a breather. I cleared my head. "What is the first dessert that comes to your mind?" Cannoli. Cannoli. Without a doubt. Now granted because of my wonderful allergic self I didn't eat any cannolis while I was in Italy; however, I did look at them and they were beautiful. The best cannoli I've ever had in the US is located at Mike's Pastries in Boston, which I highly recommend to any person with a stomach.

I baked a cannoli inspired pie using a simple sugar cookie crust dusted with cinnamon to mimic the shell of the yummy tubular treat and filled it with a unique ricotta mixture, all topped off with some delicious allergen free chocolate chips from the company Enjoy Life (one of my favorite allergy free companies; so darn good!) I think this will have to be a repeat in my kitchen sometime soon.

Cannoli Pie


Ingredients:
GF cookie dough, either homemade or store bought (flavor of your choosing)
15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin
1 cup of powdered sugar, divided
1 cup of boiling water
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup of allergy-free (or regular) chocolate chips
cinnamon

Directions:

Crust:
Prepare cookie dough according to directions or recipe and spread in a pie plate.
Bake as directed.
Dust with cinnamon and set aside to cool.

Filling:
Combine 1/2 cup powdered sugar and one envelope of gelatin, mixing well.
Add 1 cup of boiling water and mix until the sugar and gelatin dissolve; set aside.
In another bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, the remaining powdered sugar, and the vanilla.
Slowly pour the gelatin mixture over the cheese mixture and combine.
Pour the filling into the cookie dough crust and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Sprinkle chocolate chips on top of the pie making it just like a chocolate chip cannoli!


Let's be frank. This recipe is really, really easy and really, really good. I used the gelatin to help the ricotta stand up. With the help of the gelatin, it's able to be sliced as a pie without having to add eggs (and calories) and without baking the filling. It's a nice icebox pie for the hot end of summer days and it makes me want to go right back on vacation.

Yum, a cannoli and a pie. Now if they could only move Italy a little closer to California...
Check out the other amazing bloggers on the YWPWT blogroll here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Apologies... Be Back Soon!

Hi all of you 8 or 9 people that read my blog! As you know from my ranting, I've been living in the UK for the past 6 months. Now, I'm heading back to the good ol' USA, and my life is a bit hectic. Once I'm back to the tiny, tiny kitchen I call my lab, you can expect tons of new great dishes, yummy desserts, and maybe even a few life lessons.

Thanks for being patient with me, and I can't wait to show you what I've been up to very soon!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

You Scream, I Scream

Yes folks, that's right.  We all scream for Ice Cream, which means there's a lot of screaming going on.  This month's You Want Pies With That challenge is for a pie that exemplifies summer to each and every one of the talented bakers involved.  The suggestion comes from two of our very talented multi-winners, Mary and Rebecca.

Now, my last month's entry for YWPWT droned on and on about how my childhood was summer and how my memories were summery, and how my pie was basically in honor of summer.  Ouch. Looks like I should've saved it for a summery category!  But never fear, because I dug deep for my inspiration and I likey what I found.

It's hot out.  Naturally, you want something cold.  Iced tea?  No, something with more character. Lemonade?  Something sweeter maybe.  Wait, do you hear those bells?  Is that the Ice Cream Van?  Maybe you'd like some to go with your scorching sun...

And I always did and still do.  I love a good ice cream, and to me that really tops a summer day off with a sweet, lovely, and tantalizing sensation.  When the ice cream van stopped by and all the kids would run away from jumping through the sprinklers or dock their bikes on their driveways, I would run along too.  My favorite was the Chipwich.

A Chipwich is an ice cream sandwich that is composed of vanilla ice cream rolled in chocolate chips in between two chocolate chip cookies.  And it's awesome.  It's so good you want to name your first child Chipwich, or Chip for short.  So a second to my summery thoughts last month, I shall propose that summer equals my favorite ice cream sandwich.

But making the sandwich into a pie with just vanilla ice cream was too easy for me.  I had to spruce it up a bit for my more adult palate.  So, between two crusts resembling giant chocolate chip cookies, I layered Hagen Das Belgian Chocolate Ice Cream first, then placed fresh sliced strawberries on top, finished off with Hagen Das Vanilla Ice Cream.  Sort of Neopolitan, if you will.

Neopolitan Chipwich Ice Cream Pie

Ingredients:
1 pint chocolate ice cream, softened
1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened
1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 packages GF shortbreads or cookie of choice
soy-free chocolate chips to sprinkle

Directions:
Crush 3 packages of GF shortbreads to make about 2 cups of crumbs.
Pour 1 cup of crumbs into the base of a tart pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips to resemble a giant cookie.
Pour softened chocolate ice cream on top, carefully layering it over the crumbs, and freeze until par-frozen (30 mins-2 hours depending on freezer)
Press sliced strawberries into par-frozen ice cream and re-free until frozen.
Pour softened vanilla ice cream on top, and free until par-frozen.
Pour 1 cup of crumbs onto the vanilla and sprinkle with chocolate chips.
Freeze until ready to serve.

Note:  The engineering of this pie is kind of tricky.  Here's what I would do to avoid the problems I had.  I would use strawberry ice cream instead of fresh frozen strawberries, because the real strawberries are very difficult to cut through.  I would also wait 20 minutes with the pie out of the freezer before attempting to saw through it.  I was trying to get a picture so I rushed, and it was nearly impossible.


So that's all folks.  Almost didn't make it as I had to detour to the hospital tonight, but all is mostly well so don't worry too much about me :) Can't wait to see what the other fabulous creatives on the blogroll came up with.  You should check it out too!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mmmm.... That Looks Gross!

But it tastes good, and that's the most important part of the equation folks. Since my oven here isn't conducive to cooking meat, I've been doing a lot of stove-top cookery (you may have noticed.) The reason my oven isn't up for roasting, baking or broiling is because when it gets too hot (aka is on for more than 25-30 mins) it shuts itself off and does not allow itself to be awakened again until it is ice cold. An oven that gets too hot? I ask you, where is the sense in this country? Anyhow, back to my stove-top adventures...

I like to slow cook meat in sauces frequently if I'm stove-top cooking because that tender, fall-away, juicy deliciousness is just such a perfect exploration of the marriage of flavors be it smokey, sweet or savory. Alas, when you stew meat in a sauce for say, over an hour, it sometimes can start to look a little less than gorgeous. I mean, the meat will taste amazing but it won't be the prom queen. As is the case with a very good recipe I threw together a couple of weeks back. Inspired by the wonderful flavors of Latin cuisine and my insane love of black beans, I made a Chicken Thighs Stewed in a Black Bean Sauce. Oops! Wait, there's no black beans readily available in the UK stores? Oh, well then, how about refried black beans? Okay, I'm sold. It also cuts out the whole washing and cooking of raw black beans; I like any way that reduces the amount of steps it takes to make dinner.

Positives about this dish: flavorful, lots of protein, tender, and juicy.
Negatives about this dish: time is takes, and the whole beans, beans the magical fruit theory...

The sauce that I threw together covered the chicken, but it might have been too much to serve the chicken with. It kind of looked like black bean soup with large hunks of chicken. And a bowl of black bean sauce doesn't exactly look appetizing; I'm warning you so you don't have high expectations of the photograph. I can tell you that what it lacked in presentation it definitely made up for in yummyness. Try it. You may like it. Or at least you'll get rid of your unwanted house guests with your new-found gas issues.

Chicken Thighs Stewed in Black Bean Sauce


Ingredients:
12-14 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 12-16 oz can of refried black beans (standard size)
4 oz can of mild green chiles, roasted and chopped
3/4 cup thick salsa
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp garlic paste
pepper to taste

Directions:
In a hot skillet coated with oil, brown chicken thighs.
In a large pot, cook all other ingredients together and bring to a medium boil, keeping the mixture covered.
When the thighs are browned, transfer them to the large pot and cover them with sauce.
Reduce heat to a low boil, simmer and cover for 2-3 hours.
Remove and serve with rice or over a salad or just as is!

Super easy right? I would make it a Q & E recipe except for the fact that it stews for 3 hours, and even though you're not attending to it, the cooking is not quick. It's just being ignored.

PS. Dear Reader, you know my food doesn't usually look like the above, so don't judge me will ya? I have some beautiful GF pasta I'm waiting to post so don't think I've gone off the deep end on you!



Sunday, June 7, 2009

YWPWT: Childhood Memories Pie

It's raining in the UK.  It's been raining all weekend.  I can't help to transport myself back to how summer was for me when I was growing up in sunny, hot South Florida.  This is convenient because this month's You Want Pies With That Challenge brought to us by the amazing Ellen at Kittymama is to "bake a pie or tart inspired by a favorite childhood memory."  

Most of my childhood memories involve me eating fruit- a lot of fruit.  This was mostly two-fold considering I lived in the land of produce/easily importable produce and the fact that my mother often liked to give us fruit as desserts or snacks.  Often before or after meals we would have a slice of melon, some grapes, or her favorite and mine: those tiny mandarin oranges that came in a can.  I loved those little cans of mandarin oranges, and if it were purely based on  a sole memory, yes I would have made a mandarin orange tart.  However, I am not allowed to eat any type of orange right now, so I am going to the next best flavors to marry my memories.  

To me, summer was my childhood.  I grew up in a tropical summer climate all year round. Every time I eat a mango, guava, pineapple, passion fruit etc... I am instantly transported to feeling like I'm home, like everything is right in the universe.  It brings me back to family summer trips to Marco Island or Naples, or just going to Miami Beach for the day.  Going shopping in Coconut Grove or Las Olas with my mom and getting lunch, usually a salad with fresh fruit in it. Every time I taste a smoothie or margarita, I can smell the sunscreen and feel my toes crunching into the baking sand.  I miss Florida very much sometimes; it was a fantastic place to grow up.

So in honor of all these memories, I've made Mango & Lime Tropical Tartlets. These little darlings are made up of my typical tart shortbread crust, a mango puree, a lime custard, topped with fresh mango. They're also small, like me as a child and now, the same height as a child. With each bite, I can smell the sunscreen now.  Can you?

Mango & Lime Tropical Tartlets

Ingredients:

Crust:
3 1/2 cups GF shortbread crumbs
200 grams butter, melted

Mango Puree:
2 mangoes, pureed
1 tbs agave

Lime Custard:
2 cups milk (I use fat-free, lactose free)
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup GF flour mix
1 dash salt
2 tsps vanilla extract w/seeds
1/2 grated lime rind
1 tbs butter
the juice of 2 limes or key limes, squeezed (use 1 if you want the fragrance but not the flavor)

Optional Topping:
Chopped mango, nectarine, pineapple, lime
Whipped Cream
Mango Puree

Directions:

Although it's a bit of a process, it's not hard.  Just step by step folks...
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine crust ingredients and pat into a 12 muffin tin lined with parchment paper cups.
Bake crusts for about 6-12 minutes depending on your oven yield.
When light brown, remove and cool, placing tin on wire rack.

Make custard in the following steps:
Mix sugar, flour, and salt together.
Combine beaten eggs into sugar mixture slowly until well combined.
Scald milk on stove top; do not burn, do not boil!
Add sugar mixture to milk slowly, whisking constantly until thick (it takes a few minutes)
Remove from heat.
Add vanilla, lime rind, lime juice and butter and whisk together until combined.  Set aside.

Coat the bottom of each tartlet with mango puree.
Top that with a huge dollop of the lime custard.
Refrigerate until slightly set.

Assemble as artistically as you would like and voila!  You're done.  Time to eat those suckers.

What I liked most about these (besides the obvious fragrance/flavor) is that they weren't too sweet.  They were still very rich (the custard is thick and you will have about a cup leftover), but they didn't leave me feeling like my teeth were rotting.  See that's what's so great about fruit.  It's light, fresh and leaves you feeling fantastic.  Now if it weren't for all that butter in the crust... ;)




Saturday, May 30, 2009

Quick & Easy: Turkey Snow Peas with Pickled Ginger

I've been a little quiet lately. Okay, I've been a lot quiet lately but that doesn't mean I've slowed down in the kitchen. Each week I've spent my time cooking up a storm and man oh man it's time for me to post some of these suckers. Let's start with this one, shall we?

From a previous post, you will notice that it's pretty difficult for me to eat most types of Asian cuisines (at least authentically,) and though at one time it was my favorite type of food, it has taken a back-burner to some of my other favorites with more allergy friendly fare. But I was jonesing a couple of weeks back so I had to try my hand at some more fake Asian fusion food!

One of my favorite Chinese dishes has always been chicken and snow peas. I loved it! I wanted it. Badly. Since I had ordered some veggie sushi to the flat a couple of nights before (I love me some avocado rolls folks) I had a ton of leftover pickled ginger.

I have to fly off the path for a minute to take a minute to explain how fully I absolutely go head over heals for pickled ginger. Sometimes, there's more ginger on my sushi than there is actual sushi, but to me, it brings it all together. Pickled ginger is sweet and spicy and bold and smells insanely good. And though it seems to show up in Japanese cuisine more readily than in others, I wish it was a part of day to day eating. It's complexity, not to mention its health benefits, are second to none. But I digress...

Back to the meal: I had a ton of leftover pickled ginger and there was a good deal on turkey at the market so I decided to make turkey, snow peas, and you guessed it, pickled ginger. It was warm, and delicious, and didn't really taste like the restaurants would make it, but hey, you do the best with what you've got folks! Enjoy my mish-mash fake fusion folks. It's cheaper than take-out. Though I can't promise it's easier than picking up the phone ;)

Turkey Snow Peas with Pickled Ginger
aka
Fake Asian Fusion


Ingredients:
1 pound lean boneless, skinless turkey thigh, chopped up
3 oz snow pea pods, washed
2 tbs +1 tsp of gluten-free, soy free Worcester sauce
1 tbs + 1 tsp of garlic paste
3 takeaway packets + 1 small serving of pickled ginger*
sesame oil
cracked black pepper to taste

*Note: Since I was using leftover takeout ginger, it came in a small cup like salad dressing would with 3 ketchup sized packets. Use as much or as little as you like. And if you don't like pickled ginger, than use fresh or ginger powder. I'm not going to judge you ;)

Directions:
Coat a large skillet/saute pan with sesame oil and heat on medium to high
And turkey and brown.
Add snow peas, salt, pepper, and Worcester sauce.
Keep sauteing over medium to high heat for 5-10 minutes making sure to keep stirring so nothing burns.
Add ginger, garlic paste and a touch more oil and incorporate until you are happy with the flavor.
Serve up a helping over easy microwave white, brown or basmati rice OR serve with even more veggies. Yum!

This was quick, healthy, easy and cheap. I hope all you allergics and non-allergics can enjoy it as much as I did. Hopefully one day they'll discover a way of making GF, soy-free fake soy sauce. That will really be the day I can live it up, but this ain't so bad in the meantime :)



Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pumpkin Muffins Trial 2: Success!!

I tried these a couple of weeks after the disaster that was the first PM trial.  The texture is still a little spongy but I have a feeling that's because there's no actual sugar or oil in these bad boys. I know that a muffin without many traditional muffin ingredients can seem boring or gross, but I'm used to the whole eating without traditional ingredients thing at this point.  And really, it's not that bad.  I kind of even like them!

Very important: these muffins should never be served cold.  You can store them in the fridge or freezer and they keep well, but without heating them up in the microwave or oven it's not a good idea.   They're hard as rocks when they settle. Again, these aren't sounding like the most appetizing of treats but they're a good substitute when trying to eliminate certain ingredients. Here's what I tried this time around:

Nearly Free From Everything (including awesome texture)
Pumpkin Muffins, Trial #2



Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup GF rice flour blend
1/3 cup + 2 tbs agave
2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp spice blend
1 egg
1/2 cup milk (I use lactose free skim milk)
3/4 cup pumpkin
1/4 cup apple puree

Directions:
Preheat oven to 35o degrees F.
Place parchment paper liners in a 12 muffin pan.  Do not grease; it's parchment paper.
In a bowl, sift all dry ingredients together.
Add all wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix well, careful to not over-mix.
Drop sticky batter into 12 liners and bake, watching carefully until muffins brown (about 6-12 minutes in the crazy oven I'm using.)
Remove and cool.

Since this trial, I've also tried replacing the pumpkin with 1 1/2 cups mushed banana.  Those were quite yummy as well with nice, big chunks of squished banana.  Even the saddest of muffins can sometimes make an allergic girl quite happy.  Plus they're honestly easy, quick, and cheap to produce.  Who doesn't like that?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tradition Tastes Good

I'm certainly over the weather here in the UK; it's put me under the weather again I'm afraid. And even though I'm sickly, traveling for work, and haven't slept in a day, I refuse to let that stop me from posting a quick bit about this month's You Want Pies With That challenge. Chosen by the ever fantastic Natalie of Oven Love, all of the talented bloggers had to put forth a pie that was either a family favorite or inspired by a family favorite.  What a great theme right?

I chose to close my eyes and go with one of my first taste memories: butterscotch.  Often associated with grandparents for one reason or another, butterscotch is a rich and deliciously decadent flavor derived from butter and brown sugar (among other things.)  Since butterscotch pudding, cakes or otherwise has always been a family favorite, I decided to go with that.

To compliment the smooth and sweet flavor of the brown goo, I chose to bake a fake amaretti, gluten free cookie crust.  I found a wonderful brand that makes a fake nutty cookie (no nuts used in the factory) and is free of almost every other major allergen you can think of.

Since this challenge recognizes that some family favorites need to remain in the family, I am choosing not to post my filling recipe.  It'll just have to be my little secret!


Go check out YWPWT to see all the other amazing creations~

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Il Latini

On a small side street on your way to the bridges that connect Florence to its Tuscan countryside, you will find a slice of heaven here on Earth.  I can't believe I lived all my life without tasting the immense pleasure that is the cuisine of Il Latini.

My genius friend and fellow blogger at Piccante Dolce had the great privilege of once living in this gem of a city, so naturally I asked for some suggestions of where to eat.  Let's be honest, that's my first question when I'm planning to go anywhere.  You can call me obsessed if you'd like, but I want to explore other worlds through food.  Doesn't that sound more fun than a museum? (I did go to several of those too.)

Jen gave me a great list of restaurants and sites, but something about Il Latini jumped off the page and into my brain.  I saved it for my last full meal in Florence and what a finale it provided!  When I arrived casually strolling up to the restaurant for lunch, I noticed about 35-40 people were waiting outside of it.  I must be in the right place, I thought.  Immediately followed by panic, Oh no!  Do they only take reservations?

Side Note:  In Florence, several restaurants take reservations only.  The restaurants are usually small and often it is difficult to secure a reservation for dining out unless you've made it weeks in advance for some of the more sought after less touristy places.  My hotel wasn't exactly great at securing reservations either, so I thought that maybe Il Latini and I would never meet.

I waited with the others, hoping against hope that I too could take part.  Then, they opened the doors, and shattered my dreams.  A man with a piece of paper in his hands began checking off names.  I knew that this was the end...

I sighed a deep sigh and walked around the area for about 15 minutes trying to find some comparable fare but nothing even came close to what was drawing the mob of hungry patrons. Something inside me told me to go back to the restaurant and at least ask if I could wait a couple of hours.  I went back; the mob had disappeared, now being satisfied by slices of salami and ham.

Scusi?  Inglese?  Which was the most overused phrase of my trip by far. The waiter spoke English.  Sigh of relief number one.  Do you have any room for me?  Sola?  Of course, he said. Of course!  I sat at a table with eight chairs, all of them full but one.  That was my chair in the corner, across from a delightful local who very clearly loved two things: food and talking.  Next to me and next to him, a lovely couple from Venice. Everyone spoke Italian, as expected, and I listened politely understanding a good 40% of what was being said.  The waiter spoke to me in English (I guess I was easy to spot among the true Italians) and I ordered a caprese salad and a fillet of beef, senza glutine (GF.)  

The gentleman across from me kept gesturing to everything he was eating trying to get me to have some, which in half Italian, half-Spanish I tried to explain I couldn't eat most of what he was eating.  He began to understand, then shoved the large bottle of red table wine towards me, and my journey to greatness continued.  

Two glasses in, my caprese arrived, fresh and bright and delicious, as a caprese should be.


While each piece of mozzarella dissolved on my tongue, I really gave the restaurant a good look.  It was warm and full of people, the bustling waitstaff running frenetically with plates of sliced meats and cheeses and bowls of pasta. Locals who clearly dined here regularly playfully yelled at the staff and the owners from across the room, getting the same banter returned to them.  I was in a large room full of boisterous strangers, but I felt like I was with family.  

That's when the Florentine Steak that my neighbor ordered arrived.  I actually gasped.  It was probably the size of a grown man's torso, and it was about 5 inches thick.  Up until that day, when I saw the special Florentine steak ordered at other restaurants, sure a large steak came out, but nothing like the cow that was spilling over one of the largest plates I've ever seen. After my gasp, my neighbor laughed and introduced herself.  Lo and behold, she spoke the inglese. She was very nice, very thin and ate her huge 1/2 of the steak with triumphant aplomb. Oh Europe, I don't think I would ever see someone that thin back in California dig into that steak. That person would be sucking on lettuce...

She told me about her life and her travels, every now and then the gentleman would chime in, in Italian of course, and we would all speak (me in English, he in Italian) and all sort of understand each other.  And with another glass of wine, we may just have understood.

Four glasses in and my steak arrives; it's huge.  It's probably the largest steak I've ever ordered; how many ounces was it anyways?  These are things Italians don't bother themselves with. 


Manga my stomach growled.  And I did.  I manga-ed the hell out of that steak. It was cooked about rare to medium rare, which normally I would never order, but I like to try food as it's typically prepared when I go to other places.  It was delicious.  With every bite, the steak wasn't even disappearing.  I had to take breaks folks.  Me, take breaks.  That's when the waiter put down a bowl of roasted potatoes for me.  Oh g-d, I get those too?  On a steak break, I tried a potato. Now reader, there was nothing in that potato except butter, oil, salt and parsley, but that was the best damned potato I have EVER had.  Simple, robust, flavorful and something I will dream about for years to come. 
 
I think I need a new camera.  Focus anyone?

Alternating the steak and potato and sometimes combining the two, I was in an edible marathon.  Maybe another glass of wine would help?  That's when the gentleman across from me got his steak.  The same Florentine steak my neighbor was sharing was his alone.  I was floored.  I had just seen him eat 3 courses previously.  How in the world was this thin, older man going to eat that entire cow too?  Impossible I thought, until I saw it with my own eyes.
I finally made it through my own meal, savoring the lingering dancing on my tongue as I swallowed the very last bite.  

My new Italian buddy across from me finished his steak the same time and proceeded to take matters into his own hands by ordering all four of us coffees and after meal spirits.  Yes, this is where I cheated and had a tiny cup of espresso.  I miss coffee and tea so much; that might be my least favorite thing about trying to keep to low-oxalate foods.  That and the potatoes were a bit of a cheat.  Come on; I'm on vacation here!

When I eventually left the restaurant, I was glowing, happy and full.  I had even made friends with the owner too.  He gave me the two kisses and told me to enjoy my last day as if we had known each other for years.  Three hours later, I left that restaurant with friends and a new perspective on life.  I love Italians. I love their appetite for food, their appetite for life and the love that they bring in their hearts and share with everyone they meet.  Some may say, you spent three hours of your last day in Florence eating?  But I say those people don't understand, may never understand, until they experience the simple elegance and warmth that engulfs you when eating in Florence.  Or that may just be the wine talking ;)

For the best meal of your life, go to Il Latini, via dei Palchetti, 6/R, tel: +39055210916, email: info@illatini.com.