Monday, February 18, 2008

Lunch for guests

For the first time since we moved into our house, we entertained. My in-laws came over for lunch since various business places gave off for Presidents' Day. Trillian's mother has cooked for us several times, and so I wanted to prepare a lunch that would match the wonderful meals she has made. I went with several stand-by dishes, experimenting slightly with them, but not too drastically.

Our menu:
Shrimp with chile and lime
Skillet-roasted potatoes
French green beans
Baked apples and pears

For the shrimp:
The simple idea behind this is to sautee some peeled, uncooked shrimp in olive oil that has been heated with chopped-up dry chiles. We frequently do this with chile and garlic, but I decided tonight to just use the chile and then squeeze lemon juice on them at the end. I don't remember what chiles we used in the past, but I used the dried chipotles on hand today. Even with the seeds removed, the chiles were hotter than usual, but not so hot that they overpowered the taste.

For the potatoes:
I use our large skillet for this. Olive oil in heated skillet. Sautee an onion until it's translucent and thinking about caramelizing. Add thinly sliced potatoes and herbs. Today, I used fresh thyme and rosemary, as well as some leek. Cover and stir around from time to time. I start this dish first so that the onions have plenty of time to caramelize and the potatoes can brown and soften.

For the green beans:
The easiest part of the meal. Trader Joe's has wonderful frozen French green beans. Unlike many other frozen veggies, they maintain their crispness and flavor. I threw a bunch of these into a saucepan with a little water and butter and let them heat up while I did everything else.

For the dessert:
This is a variation on the baked fruit I made before. I cored apples and pears before cutting them in half and placing them in the baking dish. I then used our mini-chopper to chop up some walnuts with cinnamon, to which I then added some honey--not a lot, just enough to keep it from falling all over the place. I put a spoonful or two into the center of each fruit half and baked for about half an hour.

At least my in-laws can be certain that I'm keeping their daughter well-fed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What do you want for dinner?

Generally, I've been much better about planning meals and shopping specifically for them, but I haven't been on top of that this week. We had an excellent Valentine's dinner, which I will write about later, but so much thought went into that that we were headed towards dinner-time without a solid plan.

"What do we have?" Trillian asked.

I ran through a few things, including the sausage I'd bought recently from Whole Foods. Their "Whole Ranch" line includes a number of styles of sausage and are all gluten-free. This has turned out to be something I have to look for. I had been hoping to get chicken sausage, but the brand I used to get has bread crumbs in every flavor I found.

Using that as our basis, we decided on a quick, simple, but satisfying menu:
  • 2 Italian sausages cut up and browned with marinara then poured over them.
  • Quinoa pasta (gluten-free, decent fiber and protein levels).
  • Romaine lettuce with gluten-free blue cheese dressing. (Interestingly, blue cheese is another food that has to be labeled gluten-free to be safe. Frequently the mold used in it is started on bread and can transfer gluten to the cheese.)
I was able to heat up the sauce and make the salad while the pasta was in the pot, plus it's pretty hard to mess things up.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Heart cookies

I spent my night making some cookies for Scooter to make up for the tempting treats he has had to pass up. Although it required an extra trip to the grocery store (for food coloring since we didn't keep our old stuff in the move), I kept it pretty simple.

I started with a sugar cookie mix from Cherrybrook Kitchen, preparing the dough according to the directions. Rather than making the two-inch balls as suggested, I chilled the dough for a little bit and then rolled it out. The dough is a little crumbly, so I had to pat it together, but I was able to get a decent sheet of thin dough. Then I cut out a number of hearts. I had thought about using our vehicle cookie cutters too, but decided that those shapes might be too delicate to transfer to the baking sheet.

I still baked the cookies for about 12 minutes and then transferred them to a rack. Once they were a little cooler, I mixed together a simple confectioner's sugar/milk frosting with a few drops of red food coloring. I made the frosting in progressively lighter-colored batches, making only a little at a time. The first batch was fairly red, followed by a medium pink and two lighter pinks. I also fooled around with some food coloring "markers" I found at the grocery store.

The whole process, not including chilling time for the dough, took about an hour, and I now have a couple dozen good-sized heart cookies to get us through this pink holiday.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sweet without the sin

Besides my attempts to get gluten out of my diet, I have also been trying to lose a little weight. But gluten-free has not meant a lack of sweets, so I've been snacking way too much. This week I'm trying to be more aware of when and what I'm eating--not just grabbing a meringue as I go by because it's on the gf list.

So tonight I decided to address my craving for sweets with something plenty sweet, but healthy and relatively low in calories. I started from a recipe for pears with nuts and raisins, but quickly went my own way:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a baking dish with oil (I used olive since that's what's in my Misto).
  2. Core and slice one apple and one pear.
  3. Spread fruit slices in baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon (as much as you want) and some pine nuts.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until fruit is warm and getting soft.
I allowed myself to eat the whole pan--only two pieces of fruit, so it's not like it was all that much. One of the times I'm glad Trillian isn't big on fruit.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A new breakfast option

In addition to the cookbook I mentioned last week, Trillian brought Shauna Ahern's Gluten-Free Girl home from the library. It's a combination memoir and cookbook, along with advice on gluten-free eating. I am enjoying it immensely and have started a mental list of what I want to try next.

One of the grains that she discusses is teff. The grain originated in Ethiopia and is the smallest grain in the world. It's rich in protein and iron. As small as it is, the germ and bran are a higher proportion of each grain and end up as an integral part of the teff flour. Ahern mentions that teff flour works very well in baked goods, adding a silky texture due to its "slightly gelatinous" nature when cooked.

So I've been dying to try this grain, especially to use it in bread made from scratch so that I can see if it takes care of the slightly grainier texture that bugs Trillian about other gf flours. Of course, all I could find was whole grain teff (from Bob's Red Mill), so that experiment will have to wait. But what I could do this morning was use it to make my morning hot cereal.

I followed the recipe off the back of the package:
  1. Bring 2 cups of lightly salted water to a boil.
  2. Add 1/2 cup Teff Grain.
  3. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until water is absorbed.
  4. Add honey, raisins, nuts, fruit and/or cinnamon.
For my cooking conditions, the grain never quite absorbed all of the water in the pot, so it had a thin consistency. I'll pull back 1/4 cup next time and see if that helps. But I could definitely see the silkiness Ahern mentions.

I added some honey and frozen peaches and found the concoction quite delicious! The grain itself has just the slightest nutty flavor, and the cereal is smooth on the tongue. I filled my bowl twice and ate the whole thing, although I suppose it could serve two.

According to the back of the package, 1/4 cup dry of the grain (or one serving of the breakfast cereal) contains 6 grams of fiber (24% RDA) and 20% of the RDA of iron, plus 6 grams of protein and 8% of the RDA of calcium. Add in that a serving contains 160 calories (5 from fat) and this is a pretty good substitute for that bowl of oatmeal or cream of wheat.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Living so close to the in-laws, it's quickly becoming a tradition that we visit them for lunch on the weekends. Which also means that they have to plan around my gluten-free diet; for Scooter they just keep around the makings of grilled cheese sandwiches and gf cookies, so he's always fine when we visit. I am not entirely comfortable pushing my food limitations on others, but my mother-in-law has managed quite well in providing delicious meals. Sometimes she has to rethink her initial plan, i.e. roasted chicken instead of fried or setting aside my portion of chili before baking it with biscuits on top, but she always comes up with a workable solution. This week, she even found a variation on a chocolate pie without flour and found a gf pie crust at the grocery store.

Next month, Trillian and I are hoping to go to a nice restaurant for our anniversary. This involves a whole other level of dealing with my food limitations, as I will need to start calling around soon so that I can determine if any of the restaurants my in-laws have suggested can accommodate my requirements. A couple of the restaurants mention that they serve a specific type of ice cream with their desserts, so I've already checked to make sure I can eat those--yeah dessert, at least I can have the most important part of the meal!

It has been fairly easy for me to adapt my cooking at home, but there's a whole wide world out there, and I won't always be able to retreat to my own kitchen when I need to eat. As Trillian pointed out to me earlier today as we discussed some travel plans, we're going to have to figure out how to negotiate dining while away from home for days at a time. I have some ideas, but will have to flesh those out as we get closer to an actual trip.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Observations on gluten-free bread

The number one replacement we sought when we decided to try a gluten-free diet was some bread. Scooter and I both have always been big on carbs, and bread seemed like something we wouldn't be able to just cut out.

For some time now, we've been using a Bob's Red Mill mix for sandwich bread. This is the bread that goes on Scooter's grilled cheese sandwiches--and he's practically been living off of those.

At first, I had a few grilled cheese sandwiches too and the occasional piece of toast, but then I just worked around things with bread, mostly doing without or supplementing with rice crackers. Because when I was honest with myself, I just didn't like the taste enough to have the bread if other things were available.

After experimenting with a few other mixes and baking from scratch, I've come to an important realization: I don't particularly like any gluten-free product made with soy, garbanzo, or fava flour. In my opinion, those flours impart a distinctive taste to the baked good that really turns me off. And I can tell when something is baking, without looking at the ingredient list, that one of these flours is present; to me, they smell bad. I also recognize that this is entirely a personal opinion. While Trillian doesn't like the bread either, it is entirely a texture issue for her. She finds the bread too sweet and doesn't seem to have the issue that I do with the aroma. On the other hand, Scooter loves this bread when it's toasted, so I know that the case (8 bags of mix) that we bought from Amazon won't go to waste.

Recognizing my likes and dislikes, I decided to try another mix that was available at our local grocery store: Gluten-Free Pantry's Favorite Sandwich Bread. Now this one is not dairy-free, so it won't work for those doing gfcf, but its main ingredients are rice flour and potato starch, thus meeting my new requirements. I baked it up in our bread machine tonight (though it also has oven directions). Trillian remarked part of the way through the baking cycle that it smelled really good, like actual bread baking. Once it came out, I sliced off a thin heel and put a little Earth Balance on it. And enjoyed a piece of bread for the first time in a while. The texture of the crust was not quite what I would have liked--not sure if that was the mix or the machine. But it tasted wonderful, very much like a slice of fresh-baked white bread.

My next project will be to try some recipes for gf bread from scratch. Trillian got a cookbook by Bette Hagman from the library which has a very large chapter on gluten-free breads. I'm glad to know that there is a mix I will happily eat and will continue to make it regularly since I won't always have time to devote to bread baking, but I'm also eager to see what variations I can create and if I can make an even better crust.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A yummy take on spinach

Long, long ago, back in our restaurant-going days, Trillian and I frequented a tapas place. They had a whole range of amazing dishes, but one I got almost every time I went was spinach with apples, raisins, and pine nuts.

I decided to try my hand at a home version of the dish and was happy with the results. Here's what I did:
  1. Roughly chopped 1 apple--Gala since that's what we have in the house.
  2. Chop up some garlic. I only used one largish clove since I was looking more for the aroma than the taste.
  3. Heat up some olive oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and apple. Through in some pine nuts; I used a bag that claimed to be a half cup. Be sure not to burn the garlic.
  4. Once you've browned everything a little, throw in the spinach. I used a 1-pound bag of frozen, chopped spinach. Add some salt to taste.
  5. Stir occasionally until heated through.
I paired this with a piece of the salmon left over from last night. It was a satisfying and healthy lunch.

I did miss the presence of the raisins and would suggest that most people would want to throw in about a half cup or so. I seem to have developed a sensitivity to some aspect of some grapes, so I'm avoiding them. Next time I make this dish, I will probably throw in some dried cranberries or cherries or apricots--something to capture the sweet tang and texture of the original dish.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A good and easy dinner

The diet changes that we've made recently have required more meal planning and eating in than has been our custom. But we're starting to hit our stride now that we're settling into our house. I've been planning dinners a week at a time. And while the whole thing means more cooking, I've found a few ways to cut some time off of preparation and make some dinners especially easy.

Tonight's dinner took less than 15 minutes. We had salmon from Trader Joe's. It was already marinated; I just had to put it in the fridge yesterday to defrost and then pan-cooked it in about 12 minutes. On the side was some brown rice I cooked last night (in half water and half vegetable broth, with a splash of olive oil) and a frozen vegetable medley (an organic "California" mix with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and yellow zucchini). Delicious, healthy, and simple!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gluten-free donuts

One of our errands this afternoon was the grocery store. And of course the one grocery store in town is set up so that one enters next to the bakery. Scooter immediately started suggesting that we get some cookies and then fixated on the donuts. So guess what I promised to make.

This is why I love the internet. I ran a search, sifted out the bakeries with ready-made donuts (great idea, but they wouldn't exactly be able to deliver by 6 pm), and skimmed over a handful of recipes before settling on this one.

As is usually the case, however, I didn't quite have all of the ingredients on hand and had to make some substitutes. So here is what my version looked like:

2 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk (with half a lemon added; I learned about this substitution from Alton Brown)
1/4 cup butter, melted
5 cups gluten-free flour (I used 2 cups of all purpose gf flour and 3 cups of brown rice flour, both from Bob's Red Mill)
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp baking soda (we have forgotten to pick up baking powder for our pantry)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp cinnamon (also don't have nutmeg in the pantry yet)

I followed the basic directions for mixing, letting the dough rest, and frying. I pan fried them in about 1 1/2 inches of canola oil.

They turned out pretty well. The one problem I had was keeping the temperature of the oil just right, so there are a few that are very brown on the outside and a little underdone on the inside, though not badly. I made some donut holes too, although those were actually more prone to undercooking since they were fatter than the depth of the oil.

While tasty on their own, the donuts were even better when frosted with some Cherrybrook Kitchen chocolate frosting. We recently decided to give Amazon groceries a shot, particularly with some of the gluten-free products that we use a lot or can't get around here, and the frosting arrived today. Talk about timing!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Pot roast

We're having a snowy sort of day here. Just enough to make us change our plans (library and a few errands) and decide to hole up in our warm house today. I had already planned pot roast for dinner tonight, but now we get to enjoy its homey aroma all day long.

This is probably not something Scooter will even agree to taste, but less picky children might. I'll be popping a gluten-free bread mix in the bread maker in a little bit so that he can have his grilled cheese sandwich tonight.

Somewhere over on my other blog, there's a recipe for pot roast that involves French onion soup mix and a couple cans of cream of mushroom soup. It's an easy recipe and makes its own gravy, but there aren't any good gluten-free substitutes that I've found, so I'm experimenting with the following today (will update later with my verdict).

Crockpot Pot Roast
Good-sized chuck roast or other cut that's good for slow-cooking (ours is 2 1/2 pounds--I expect lots of leftovers!)
Potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, other veggies you might want to include
Salt and pepper

  • Chop up veggies. I used 3 medium-sized white potatoes, 3 ribs of celery, and 2 handfuls of baby carrots, plus half an onion.
  • Saute chopped up onion until starting to brown. Set aside.
  • Brown roast on all sides.
  • Place potatoes on bottom of crockpot. Top with half of onions and then the roast. Put rest of onions on top of that.
  • Put veggies around sides of roast.
  • Salt and pepper as desired.
  • Pour broth (I used a vegetable broth that's just veggies and spices--no ambiguous "natural flavors" or other questionable items) over the top. I filled the cooker about halfway.
Most similar recipes I've seen seem to call for about 4-6 hours on high or 8-10 on low. I started the cooker out on high for a couple of hours and then set it back to low.

So far, it smells good and looks to be cooking nicely.

ETA: The roast was incredibly tender and tasty. Could have used a little more salt (can always add that per individual taste once it's served). Might also use less broth next time since the juices from the roast added quite a bit to the volume. Could probably get away with not browning the onions first, as I didn't notice them one way or the other. But overall, very tasty and filling, an entire meal in one pot.