Thursday, September 27, 2007

Top Ten Gluten-Free Eats (and One Drink)

When my husband Dan went in to the doctor to check out why he had dropped so much weight and felt so lousy, he was told at the initial visit by the amazingly brilliant Dr. Bruce Harro of Schuylerville, New York that celiac disease was a possible culprit. The Good Doctor told Dan to enjoy his breadstuffs and beer while awaiting his blood test results, because he felt strongly that he might have celiac disease. Dan glumly enjoyed his beloved dark beers on his birthday, coincidently the last day before he would hear about his test results. He moped as he munched on some pizza and crackers and mourned the fact that he might never again sip a Newcastle Brown Ale.

The next day Dr. Harro confirmed his diagnostic suspicions and our adventure in gluten-free living began. It's been a year and a half, and we are both still experimenting with recipes and new products, but we've found that it does get easier over time to read labels, maneuver the grocery aisles and cook up gluten-free grub. There is now an explosion of interest in the wheat-free diet and many more people, even in our circle of friends and family, who need to eliminate gluten from their lives. The Internet has been an inspiring fountain of information for us and in that spirit of sharing and to help us all live a happy and healthy gluten-free life, Dan and I would like to share his Top Ten List of Favorite Gluten Free Edibles (and One Potable):

1) Cheddar Cheese Flavored Nut Thins - The Blue Diamond Almond company makes a line of gluten-free crackers that are wonderfully crunchy and come in an assortment of flavors. Dan enjoys the the Cheddar Cheese Nut Thins when he has been crafty enough to remember to hide them from our kids. Look for them in the supermarket in the gluten-free section or sometimes next to the gourmet cheeses. They are also available online directly from the Blue Diamond website. When browsing the home page, just ignore the cute almond dudes in Raybans smiling out from being entombed in almonds up to their armpits. Perhaps the marketing department might want to rethink this photo. Who's eating those almonds?

2) Roasted Vegetables - Browsing the wealth of gluten-free recipes on the Internet has given us a lot of new ideas and roasting pretty much any member of the Vegetable Kingdom is now a favorite way of getting our greens. We traditionally roasted potatoes and the occasional medley of root vegetables if we were really getting down and funky, but now we have tried roasting asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and fennel. All yummy. Toss with oil, spices, snipped fresh herbs, chopped garlic and roast in a 375 degree oven until crispy.

3) Pirate's Booty - Yarrrhhh! These all-natural cheesy puffs are made from rice and corn and won't make your arteries recoil when you open the bag. They taste like they're really bad for you, as a good snack food should, but are only 130 calories per serving if you can restrain yourself to that. Gluten-free and booty-licious! Readily available in most grocery stores in our area.

4) Gluten-Free Pastas - Our fears that we would be bereft of all our beloved pasta were put to rest when we examined the shelves of our health food store and grocery. There are lots of great gluten-free pastas made from quinoa, brown rice, corn and my favorite, those rice vermicelli noodles. You soak them in hot water to soften and then use in stir fries, soups, noodle salads and in spring rolls. They have a great texture. I find that you need to pay closer attention to the cooking times with these pasta varieties as they have a tendency to go from al dente to mushy in the blink of an eye.

5) Anything from the Garden - No need to read labels or worry about chemical sprays in the garden, everything's naturally gluten-free! We renewed our gardening efforts greatly and have tried out some new crops in keeping with our new wheatless lifestyle. I would encourage everyone to try their hand at growing their own vegetables, even if it's just a porch pot of tomatoes and basil. It's good exercise, it keeps you connected to the earth and everything tastes better when you've invested a bit of yourself in it. Few things are more heavenly than biting your own sun-warmed tomato.

6) Jennie's Macaroons - Our supermarket carries these great little macaroons in the bright yellow cannister and they are scrumptiously moist and chewy. They are just the right size for when Dan wants a sweet treat.

7) Corn Tortillas - Pop one in a buttered skillet, top with grated cheese and bits of diced onions, peppers, or tomatoes, top with another tortilla. Press down, fry for 1-2 minutes, flip and fry another 1 minute and serve them up piping hot with sour cream, guacamole and/or salsa for a fast meal.

8) Quinoa - Dan and I read about this Aztec wonder grain and then went to the health food store to invest in some for our supper. We learned not to ask for "Kee-no-ah", but "Keen-wah" after receiving some dumbfounded stares from the owner, and glad we are to be corrected, for it is a great alternative when stuck in the rice or potatoes rut. Rinse the grains to remove a naturally-occurring bitter seed coating, and then throw it into the pot with water to cover. Cook just like rice. Makes a great tabbouleh.

9) Hot Sauces - At first I worried about vinegar-based condiments because most are made with white vinegar, but lots of research and reading seems to indicate that the distillation process removes the gluten, so we've been wantonly using lots of hot stuff to spice up our gluten-free meals. The hot sauce troika ever present in our cupboards: Peewee's Green, Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue Sauce (original flavor) and Tabasco Chipotle Sauce.

10) Fresh Gingerroot - We had used fresh ginger in the past, but not as readily as we are now in the post-gluten era. We are cooking up a lot more Asian recipes and find that grating a little fresh ginger into various recipes really kicks up the flavor. We now always try to keep some on hand in the refrigerator, and it has become a staple in our pantry, just as fresh garlic is.

11) Redbridge Beer - Dan wanted me to list this first, to indicate his complete happiness at finding a gluten-free potent potable that actually tastes great. We tried some of the other small gluten-free craft beers available in our area, and they just tasted weak or strange, or both. Redbridge is a nice red ale made from sorghum and I would describe it as being similar in taste to a Killian's Irish Red Ale. It is made by Anheuser-Busch and is readily available in our area in most supermarkets.

We are still on the prowl for a really good gluten-free pizza crust recipe and for an artisan bread of architecturally resplendent proportions (stunted loaves are the order of the day out of my oven to date), but the above top ten list keeps us happy and healthy in the interim.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Eggplant Parmigiana: Hold the Gluten

Eggplant Parmigiana is a family favorite, but we hadn't tried to recreate the pre-celiac version we so enjoyed because of all the bread crumbs involved. We've made ratatouille, eggplant rollantine, baba ghanoush, and other eggplant parmagiana recipes in a gluten-free mode, but we greatly missed the traditional layering of fried eggplant, marinara sauce and gooey mozzarella. After a little experimentation, I found a great way to prepare our favorite eggplant dish without the crumbs but with the same deliciousness. It helps that I used tender baby eggplants from our home garden rather than the Double D-cup wizened eggplants that one usually sees languishing in the produce aisle.

Here is a photo of this eggplant success, which I battled to take before it was wolfed down by my platoon of hungry monsters. The lovely aster and cosmos bouquet in the background harbors a Japanese beetle which I unknowingly brought in from the yard. See if you can spot him/her.

Eggplant Parmigiana

2 medium size eggplants, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick (sometimes I leave the skin on, the way I prefer it, but the other Jags don't like to eat it)
3 eggs, beaten well
4 cups marinara sauce
1 (l lb.) package of mozzarella, grated
Olive oil for frying
2/3 cup white rice flour
2/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Several sprigs fresh basil, sliced thinly

Place 1 cup of marinara in the bottom of a 9x13 glass baking dish and spread to cover bottom.

Mix rice flour, Parmesan, oregano and garlic powder together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Dip eggplant slices in beaten egg and then in rice flour/Parmesan mixture to coat.

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in large frying pan. Fry eggplant in batches until golden brown. I found that medium high heat worked the best in keeping the eggplant slices from sticking to the pan. The rice flour coating does not absorb as much oil as the traditional bread crumbs, so this was a heart-healthy bonus. I didn't even feel that I needed to blot the eggplant on paper towels as was absolutely necessary with the bread crumb method of yore.

Place a layer of eggplant over sauce in baking pan. Throw on 1/3 of the grated mozzarella and maybe a little extra Parmesan if so inclined. I also had some roasted tomatoes on hand that I wanted to use up, so I stuck these in too. Top with some of the basil, more marinara and then repeat layers twice more as your eggplant is fried up.

Cover pan with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1/2 hour or until cheese is bubbly.

I've heard that Eggplant Parm improves with age, but leftovers don't last long in these parts.

Mangia bene.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Late Summer Garden Harvest

The garden has quieted down from its vegetable chaos of mid-summer. Vines are drying up and production is now limited to tomatoes, basil, peppers, brussel sprouts and kale. We had a lovely cucumber year and put up lots of refrigerator pickles. Our favorite cucumber variety is Suyo Long, purchased from Johnny's Seeds. It is an Asian variety with thin, but spiky skin that curls into long tendrils if you stake them. These anthropomorphic cucurbits have very small seeds and once you rinse them and slake off the spines with your hand, you don't need to peel them for eating. We enjoy them cut up with tomatoes, onions and basil for a summer salad most nights or sliced thinly and dressed with rice vinegar, a splash of sesame oil and some snipped chives. They are very prolific and thrived even during our hot and dry summer this year.

We had a lot of zucchini from our Costata Romanesco zucchini plant, but as mentioned in a previous post, probably won't grow this beautiful, ridged zucchini variety again as it picks up a lot of dirt in the ridges and has a moist blossom end that rots quickly and is frankly gross to pick. We did enjoy these zukes in a lot of sautes with our plum tomatoes, garlic and basil. We also had some volunteer yellow pattypan squashes sprung from our compost pile that went into these dinners.

I attempted a line of leeks which I had gotten as seedlings from our local garden store and they were growing nicely in their trench. I added compost each week to cover the roots as they swelled and grew, but then I started to notice that individual leeks would suddenly get yellow and dry up. I plucked them out to discover that their roots had been chomped by what I suspect are our resident lawn mole population, so I pulled the remainders out early and sauteed them up with onions and garlic and added them to various omelets and steamed vegetables. The same thing happened when I grew tulips one year; I got lovely blossoms, and then the tulips would shrink back down into the ground several inches. When tugged, they slipped right out, rootless and gnawed. Ah well, I guess I can't grow leeks in these parts.

Our tomatoes have been very abundant this year and we have eaten lots fresh, given a lot away and had lots of delightful tomato salads with and without fresh mozzarella balls (they even have tiny little mozzarellitos in our grocery store!), but always drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, sliced basil, chopped fresh garlic and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Another way we store tomatoes for the winter is to roast them in the oven and then freeze them. Here's what you do:

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Cut up a whole batch of plum tomatoes by slicing them in half, chopping off the ends and then squeezing out as much of the seeds as you can. Dump in a pot with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss tomatoes to coat them.

Place in glass baking dishes, cut side down, as close together as possible. Roast in a 200 degree oven for 5-6 hours. Tomatoes will be soft and caramelized. When cooled, you can just slip off the skins.

Pack in freezer containers with olive oil and fresh basil leaves.

When you pull these bags out on a frosty day, the fragrant smell of summer will knock you down. Use these tomatoes on pizzas, in vegetable sautes, in omelets, or whir them up with some ricotta cheese for a nice dip.

Friday, September 14, 2007

At the Zucchini Bowl

The late summer garden is pumping out its last tomatoes and peppers and zucchinis and so I turned to the Internet for summer squash inspiration and found this excellent recipe for a Grilled Zucchini and Quinoa dish. As is often the case, I did not have all of the ingredients on hand, so I riffed on this deliciousness by substituting various ingredients and the grilling part (no charcoal at home). Here's this tasty recipe Dan has dubbed Green-wah (rhymes with Quinoa).

1 avocado
juice of 1/1 lemon
1/4 cup snipped chives
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, hardboiled and cut into quarters for garnish

1 large zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch thick coins
1 onion, chopped,
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups cooked quinoa, cooked, room temperature
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup feta, crumbled

In a blender, place avocado, lemon juice, chives, garlic, sour cream, water, and salt and whirr until well-blended.

Heat frying pan and add oil. Saute walnuts until toasted and remove with slotted spoon. Add onions and zucchini and saute until soft.

Toss quinoa with dressing, walnuts, feta, zucchini and top with egg quarters.

Serves 4 to 6.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Chocolate of the Gods

We recently spent a lovely, lazy day at Friends Lake in the Adirondacks with Dan's cousins and enjoyed a great gluten-free feast hosted by our happening hosts, Mike and Jill. Jill has recently found out that she has a gluten sensitivity, so needless to say we were madly swapping recipes and cooking/restaurant tips. Jill spoiled us all with some decadent Chocolate Brownies, for which I begged for the recipe. They are more like a silken, semi-sweet kind of fudge and have a nice Aztec hint of spice. Run to the kitchen and whip up a batch of these:

Flourless Fudge Brownies

6 large eggs, room temperature

18 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup unsalted butter

2 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup heavy cream

4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Prepare a 9-inch square baking pan by lining it with foil and spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray or brushing it with vegetable oil.
  3. Melt the semisweet chocolate and the butter in a double boiler (a pan set over a hot water bath); stir until smooth.
  4. Add vanilla and cinnamon; stir thoroughly to combine.
  5. Remove mixture from the heat and cool to room temperature.
  6. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs on high speed until very frothy and about triple in volume (approximately 5 minutes).
  7. Fold half of the beaten eggs into the chocolate mixture and combine.
  8. Then fold in the remaining egg.
  9. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
  10. Place the pan of brownie batter into a larger pan, like a roasting pan and fill that pan with hot water half way up the side of the smaller pan containing the batter.
  11. Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes.
  12. Turn off the oven but keep the brownies in the closed oven for another 10 minutes.
  13. After 10 minutes, remove the brownies pan from the larger water bath pan and place it on a wire rack to cool while making the glaze.
  14. To make the glaze, heat the cream and the dark chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water.
  15. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  16. Pour the hot glaze over the brownies and smooth it out with a spatula.
  17. Set the pan aside to cool completely.
  18. When cool, cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  19. Cut chilled brownie into 12 squares.
  20. Brownies taste best when allowed to come to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.