Monday, February 26, 2007

Gluten-Free in NYC - Day Three

Our last day of vacation. Dan and I were determined to mount a more organized eating assault on the Big Apple so we splurged for tickets aboard a double-decker tourist bus outside the Empire State Building and rode around downtown Manhattan. It was a great way to get guided neighborhood tours and amazing views of the architecture. We could hop on and off whenever we saw something interesting, which in our kids' eyes was usually a clothes or shoe store.

We were able to hustle them in to our first gourmet
destination, Babycakes, a bakery that caters to gluten-free
and other allergy-sensitive customers. Located in a funky section of east Chinatown (248 Broome Street, between Orchard and Ludlow), this was a quiet, small haven with the feel of a 1930s-40s grandma's kitchen. At least four aproned bakers were busy behind the counter in the tiny kitchen, so the quarters were cramped, but we sat down and enjoyed tasty cupcakes, chocolate cake and blueberry crumb cake with sides of coffee and soda that were scrumptious. My daughter raved that her wheat-free, sugar-free cupcakes were the best she ever had.

Erroneously thinking that Chinatown was right next to Greenwich Village, home of the parental lunch spot of choice, we marched the kids many miles before we finally plopped down to eat at 4 o'clock in the afternoon at Risotteria (270 Bleecker Street). This was the Holy Grail we had been seeking: most everything on the menu was safe to eat and designated as gluten-free and/or
vegetarian. Gluten-free beers, wonderful gluten-free breadsticks magically appearing on the table and often-replenished by a friendly, funny waiter. It was just great.

Of course we had to try two of the spectacular versions of the 35 different risottos offered on the current menu. We also tried the pizza, which I didn't like as much since the crust was too crisp and thin for my taste. However, if we had the luxury of another day in New York, we would certainly have come back to sample the panini, salads and decadent-sounding appetizers. Risotteria was just so relaxing for our family. Ordering food was transformed from a worrisome task to effortless pleasure. We grabbed a bag of gluten-free croutons and breadstick mix to play with back home, but the croutons got gobbled up in-transit. Four thumbs up!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gluten-Free in NYC - Day Two

The family split in two on the second day of our sojourn; I brought my eldest daughter to visit the Fashion Institute of Technology on W. 27th Street and 7th Avenue while Dan squired number two daughter up Fifth Avenue and into Central Park to check out the zoo. F.I.T. has a great museum (free!) inside which featured rainbow-colored designer fashions and some interesting alumni art work. We also went to the student-run Style Store inside the college which features some new and student-designed clothing and jewelry and some vintage designer clothes. It's cash only, but there are great deals for the frugal fashionista.

The Central Park Zoo was also a hit, especially the seals, puffins, polar bear and the Rain Forest area, which was warm and toasty on this blustery day. You are right inside with the animals and the birds and deer are enchanting. The enormous fruit bats crawling up the trees by their hooked claws are less so.

Now, for the gluten-free dining report. Once reunited and rested, we ventured forth for dinner to the Bombay Grill, which we had spied the night before at 344 Lexington Avenue (between East 39th and 40th streets). This turned out to be everyone's favorite NYC meal. There was a huge selection of meat-free, wheat-free options, as long as we steered away from the naans, pooris and other breads. We tucked into some great Shrimp Tikka Masala, Fish Curry, Kadai Paneer, Vegetable Biryani and lots of basmati rice and raita. The prices were reasonable, our server was knowledgeable and attentive and we all enjoyed the Indian music in the background as we scraped the sauce from every dish. Four thumbs up!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gluten-Free in NYC - Day One

We took a short vacation during the kids' February break week to visit New York City. It was windy and chilly the first day, so we abandoned our original walking tour plans and hit the Guggenheim Museum for a wonderful exhibit on the development of Spanish painting. Despite the current scaffolding which obscures this turban-shaped, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum, it is always a treat because it has so many interesting vistas and angles to frame the artwork. This particular exhibit showed off one high spot of art history after the other by Juan Miro, Picasso, El Greco, Goya and others. The curators showed humor by contrasting paintings by different artists of cow heads, court dwarves, overly-dressed royals and other subjects. The exhibit runs through March 28th.

My first tip for the gluten-free traveler would be to avoid what I did in packing a glass bottle of wheat-free soy sauce in my purse. We planned on a Chinese/Thai/Japanese meal or two, so I had gotten a bottle packed inside a plastic bag to use on our table. This was unfortunately not enough protection as it leaked inside my new pleather purse and onto the floor of our lunch spot and worst of all, on my borrowed library book. My next trip will be to the dollar store to procure a leak-free plastic condiment bottle. And I will only bring ratty paperbacks along for the ride.

Our dinner was at Bloom's Delicatessen Cafe, located at 350 Lexington Avenue, at the corner of E. 4oth Street. This was a quick walk from our hotel room and we had gotten their name from the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program on the Internet. Our omnivorous offspring were thrilled with their Chicken Fingers and Shrimp Parmigiana and even tried a New York deli must-drink, Cel-Ray, a celery-flavored ginger ale. Dan and I enjoyed the complimentary Pickle Bar and were appreciative that they had a gluten-free menu, but there were limited options for a vegetarian. We ended up with okay broiled fish, although Dan opted for the delicious gluten-free french fries. Two doors up on the same block was an Indian restaurant which piqued our interest for the next night's dining, but I will save that for tomorrow's blog.....

Friday, February 16, 2007

Zucchini Tonic

In the dead of winter, as the lone dried asparagus stalks flail out of the snow-capped vegetable garden, one needs a little fresh greenery. Here's a simple zucchini recipe that restores the cholorophyll to your body:

Sauteed Zucchini

2 medium zucchini, washed and ends cut off

1 tsp. dried or frozen basil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. olive oil

5 plump cloves garlic, finely chopped

Grate zucchini coarsely on a kitchen grater.

Heat saute pan. Add butter and oil and heat to sizzling. Add garlic and stir 1-2 minutes. Add half of zucchini and saute 5 minutes. Add remaining zucchini and saute another 5 minutes (some zucchini stays bright green this way). Season with basil, salt and pepper and serve.

Zucchini lets off a lot of moisture, so this will be saucey. If you like your zucchini drier, you can squeeze it out before cooking to remove some liquid or cook a few more minutes, but don't let zucchini become gray and overcooked.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sweets for Your Valentines

Now the snow is up to two and a half feet and even the plows aren't coming around on our lonely road. More blizzard conditions and wind shuffling the powdery snow around so that shoveling and plowing don't have a lingering effect. More cooking heralded.

I am happy to report that a year after the whole wheat-free diet was mandated, I have finally achieved a tasty and flaky pie crust. I owe it all to the dean of wheat-free cooking, Bette Hagman. I have a copy of her flagship cookbook, "The Gluten-Free Gourmet"(NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1991) and used her Tender Vinegar Pastry recipe for the crust. I made two crusts, one for a pumpkin pie and one for my family favorite, Apple Sour Cream Pie.

The crusts held together well and were fairly easy to repair after rolling them out and attempting the transfer to the pie pans. My Franken-crusts just needed some extra work to seal the cracks. It is hard to make a beautiful sculptured edge as is more easily done with a wheat crust, but the taste is really light and it's texture is wonderful. We tried some frozen gluten-free pie crusts and they were leaden and as tasty as a busted shoe.

Here is Ms. Hagman's Tender Vinegar Pastry recipe:

1-1/2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch (not to be confused with potato flour)
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. xanthan gum
3/4 cup shortening
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. vinegar
2 Tbsp. cold water

Sift flours, salt, sugar and xanthan gum into a mixing bowl. Cut in shortening. Blend together egg, vinegar and cold water. Stir them into the flour mix. This will seem quite moist, but a rice crust needs to be more moist than a wheat flour one.

Knead the mixture into a ball (handling will not toughen the dough). Separate into two balls and roll, one at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap. Place in pie tin.

Makes 2 crusts.


Apple Sour Cream Pie

One unbaked pie crust
4 small apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. gluten-free baking mix
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
1 egg, beaten

Topping: 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/3 cup gluten-free baking mix & 1/4 cup butter

Line pie plate with pastry.

Mix 3/4 cup sugar and 2 Tbsp. baking mix. Add sour cream, vanilla, egg and salt. Add apples and combine. Pour into pie shell.

Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Then combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over top of pie. Lower oven heat to 325 degrees and bake another 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Top with sweetened whipped cream, if desired.


Two Feet of Snow Coming? Let's Cook!

My inner food stylist is having way too much fun with this blog.

We're under blizzard conditions today in Upstate New York. The kids are home from school, the media advises no non-essential driving, and there's plenty of wood for the fireplace and candles to light, so we're going to celebrate Valentine's Day with some hugs, gluten-free chocolate and a lot of good cooking.

Here’s our favorite guacamole recipe. When the garden’s in season, we add some chopped cilantro, which we once grew from purchased seeds but now comes back year after year in some spot of the garden.

Guacamole Jagareski

2 ripe avocadoes, peeled and mashed
1 fat clove garlic, run through garlic press or minced fine
Kosher salt to taste
Juice of ½ lime
2 Tbsp. chopped red onion
Hot sauce to taste (red or green)
2 tsp. cumin

Blend all ingredients together and let stand at room temperature at least one hour before serving to let flavors get to know each other.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Adventures in Gluten-Free Baking

Lest anyone think the preceding culinary successes dictate that I am a foolproof cook, I present you with the Case of the Rubber Apple Cake.

I have never been a great baker, as this skill requires precision measurements and I’m more of a jazz improvisation cook. And then there’s all those exotic-sized baking pans, madeleine molds, pie weights and such which I never seem to have. Baking gluten-free has been even more frustrating for me as I am easily daunted by the talcum powder storms produced by all those superfine wheatless flours. However, we must all have our sweets and so I shall press on.

I tried a recipe for Wheat-Free Apple Layer Cake, courtesy of It’s a nice, homey recipe website with lots of photos of finished products and cute kids ingesting delicious-looking treats. I didn’t have soy flour and substituted tapioca flour. Also, the recipe calls for caster sugar, which is a finely ground kind of sugar which one could theoretically produce in a food processor or blender, but as that’s just another opportunity for a talcum tornado (not to mention the cleanup factor), I substituted regular granulated sugar.

How to make a Rubbery Apple Layer Cake

1-1/2 cups white rice flour
Scant cup soy flour (I used tapioca flour)
½ cup caster sugar (I used regular sugar)
1 tsp. wheat-free raising agent (I used yeast, but maybe they meant baking powder)
2 large apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup water
¼ cup apple juice
2 Tbsp. sunflower oil
Few drops vanilla
Dash of vinegar
Brown sugar

Mix dry ingredients together. Add water, juice, oil, vanilla and mix well. Add vinegar and stir. Pour half of cake batter into a greased (9 x 9 inch) square cake tin (Another substitution: I used a 2 quart glass baking pan). Spread apple slices evenly over the batter and then top with the remaining mixture. Sprinkle with brown sugar.

Bake at 360 degrees for 40 minutes or until firm.

Well, it was firm alright. The taste is good, but I think the substitution for the soy flour and my misinterpretation of raising agent caused a chemical imbalance in the finished product and it was more like rubber than a delectable dessert. It was crummy instead of crumb-y. My family still ate it, and it was improved with reheating in the microwave and dousing with pure maple syrup, but I shall have to learn to be less of a deviant in my baking.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Palmer House Potatoes

21 years ago I was a waitress and kitchen helper for the inaugural summer at the Palmer House Cafe in Rensselaer-ville, New York, a beautiful Albany County hamlet surrounded by rolling hills, waterfalls and historic houses. It is a summer residence for many artists and writers (Isaac Asimov and Andy Rooney were the celebs during my tenure), and I was fortunate to help out my friends Mike, Marie, Bill and Susan in their new restaurant venture. They taught me many wonderful kitchen tricks and recipes in the hours leading up to the dinner service, but the best recipe of all remains their delicious garlic roasted potatoes. I am proud to share it with you all.

Palmer House Potatoes

10-12 potatoes, peeled and sliced thickly

1 head garlic, peeled and chopped

kosher salt and pepper

Olive oil

Toss potatoes and garlic with enough olive oil to coat. I like to use my hands in a big soup pot to accomplish this. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread out onto two cookie sheets so that each potato has its own space to roast without being covered up by other potatoes. You want these nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Scrape and turn over once or twice during the cooking time to brown evenly. You might also want to rotate cookie sheets at least once to brown evenly. The potatoes on the top rack always brown more in my oven.

Sprinkle with dried parsley, basil, or rosemary and a dash more kosher salt and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Ooh Baby, It's Cold Outside

More single digit tempera-tures outside and wild winds sucking out the heat inside. Time to whip up a hot pot of soup. Minimal cupboard contents dictated the following Italian comfort soup.

PASTA E FAGIOLI (Pasta Fazool)

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped (more if anyone in the house is feeling poorly)

1 large onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 (28 oz.) can plum tomatoes or diced tomatoes

1 (15 oz.) can canellini beans or chick peas, drained

1 cup water

Seasonings: dried or fresh basil, parsley, salt and pepper to taste

1/2 lb. cooked gluten-free pasta (elbows or ditalini are traditional, but I used leftover fettucine)

Grated Romano or Parmesan

Heat oil in soup pot. Saute onion, carrots and celery for several minutes. Add garlic, taking care to keep heat low so garlic doesn’t get bitter. Saute several more minutes.

Add remaining ingredients, except for pasta. Simmer gently 15-20 minutes. Add pasta for the last five minutes of cooking to avoid mushiness. Top with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Serves 6.


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Winter Breakfast for Lumberjacks

Husband Dan couldn't stand another omelet this morning, so he came up with this English-inspired trio: Potato-Cheese Pancake, Barbecued Baked Beans and Sliced Strawberries. A hearty start to today's single digit temperatures. Here are the recipes for the first two gustatory delights:

Potato-Cheese Pancake

1 large potato, unpeeled
1-2 Tbsp. butter
Seasonings: onion powder, Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 slice provolone cheese

Grate potato onto several paper towels. Squeeze as much water out of the potato as you can. Heat frying pan. Add 1 Tbsp. butter to melt.

When sizzling, add potatoes and flatten down hard with spatula. Season with onion powder and Montreal Steak Seasoning (gluten-free, we checked with the manufacturer!). If you don't have Montreal Steak Seasoning, use black pepper, paprika and garlic salt.

Cook on low, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until potatoes hold together as a cake. Add more butter if necessary. Flip and cook another 5 minutes or until browned. Place a slice of cheese on top. Dan used provolone, but any good melting cheese will do. Flip half over and just heat until cheese is melted.

Barbecued Baked Beans

This recipe is adapted from Nava Atlas' wonderful cookbook "The Great American Vegetarian".

1 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1/4 cup molasses
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1-1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ginger
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
4 cups cooked beans (we used soybeans as we had a bumper crop from the garden. They are ridiculously easy to grow and don't get bug pests or diseases in our neck of the woods. You can use navy beans or cannelli beans too).

Heat oil in heavy saucepan. Add onion and saute over low heat until translucent. Add garlic, stirring, and saute until onion is browned. Add all other ingredients except for beans and simmer 10-20 minutes.

Add beans and mix well. We put this into the crockpot for 3 hours, but you could also bake this in your stove (covered, 45 minutes covered and then 15 minutes uncovered). Dan also likes a round of Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce (gluten-free as per the manufacturer) mixed in for extra flavor.

This delicious breakfast provides all the nutrients required of a brace of lumberjacks.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Nice Rice

You say tabbouleh, I say tabouli, we all loved that bulghur wheat salad, but a delicious substitute is the following rice salad, adapted from the Tabouli Recipe in “Moosewood Restaurant: Low-Fat Favorites” by the Moosewood Collective. Here’s our version:

Middle Eastern Rice Salad

3 cups cooked rice
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 small cloves of garlic, pressed
1 cup chopped Italian parsley
4 scallions, chopped (I substituted ¼ cup finely minced red onion, in summertime I would use the chives in my kitchen garden)
Handful of grape tomatoes, halved (so they don’t spit you or a friend in the eye when chomped)
Chopped fresh mint or 1 tsp. dried mint
Kosher salt and pepper to taste.
A couple of splashes of extra virgin olive oil

Ideally, you make your rice right before you mix in the dressing so that the rice grains suck it up better, but cold leftover rice will do. Mix all ingredients together and let flavors mingle at room temperature for several hours. If salad seems a little dry, splash in some rice wine vinegar and maybe a little more olive oil.

Feta cheese, black olives, dill, and chick peas can be added to vary this salad.

A good party dish, particularly for summer gatherings, as it can be left out for hours without spoiling.

Serves 10-12.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Super Bowl Snacking

The J family is going to a friend's house to watch the Super Bowl game and snack. We will bring a couple of things that are wheat-free and meat-free (gluten-free crackers, guacamole, rice salad and a new dip which I would love to share with you all:

Shrimp and Artichoke Dip

1 (8 oz. ) pkg. cream cheese, softened

3 Tbsp. chopped red onion

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1-2 tsp. soy sauce (make sure it's wheat-free, as many are not)

1/2 lb. cooked shrimp (I saved some from last night's stir fry, but canned would probably work as well)

1 (14 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and rough chopped

kosher salt to taste

Handful of Italian parsley, chopped

1/2 cup sour cream

Place everything in a food processor and blend until smooth. Refrigerate for a few hours to blend flavors.

Here's a photo of this fabulous appetizer, tarted up with some crushed dried rosemary, paprika and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil so that it didn't look so white and bland.


Friday, February 2, 2007

C is for Cookie

So while Sesame Street might have made cookies politically incorrect for pre-schoolers now that the Cookie Monster sings the praises of vegetables, we still love cookies. Here's a gluten-free treat for everyone from the recipe files of my good friend Tina.

Almond Cloud Cookies

2 cups blanched almonds (you can find bags of whole almonds or sliced almonds, any form will do as long as the brown skin is gone)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
2 egg whites at room temperature

Using a food processor, grind the almonds and sugar, half at a time, until finely ground. Blend in vanilla and egg whites.

Drop with teaspoon onto a well-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes, until golden peaks form. Let sit for a couple of minutes to cool a bit and then wrestle from the cookie sheet with a spatula.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

You can also add 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips, if desired.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

A Winter Breakfast

Here in Upstate New York we have finally gotten our usual wintry weather in the last several weeks and it's time for a hot morning's breakfast. If there is time, the following biscuit recipe serves the bill. They are best fresh out of the oven, but even cold they don't last the day in our household of four.

Buttermilk Biscuits

1 cup potato starch (not to be confused with potato flour, we get it at our health foods store)
1-1/2 cups corn starch (bought on sale in bulk at the grocery store)
3-1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (from health food store, expensive stuff)
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
2/3 cup cold butter, cubed
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
Rice flour

Spray a baking stone with cooking spray or lightly oil it. If you don't have a baking stone (great for pizza and crisping up other baked goods too) you can use a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Work in butter until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Pour in buttermilk and mix until dough gathers into a ball.

Sprinkle counter with rice flour and turn dough out. Quickly form into two large balls and press flat. Cut each ball into eight sections, like a scone. Place on baking stone.

Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly brown.

Makes 16 biscuits.

Enjoy warm with butter and jam.