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 ;)





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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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


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

GF Brownie Mix or GF Brownie Recipe

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

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

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

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

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!