Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Restrictive Diet? Sites and Meal Ideas

I hear "gluten-free" more and more these days. My college roommate found out she had celiac's disease (allergy to gluten) a few years ago. Most recently, one of my oldest childhood friends was advised to try a restrictive diet for two weeks. She has to cut out Gluten; Citric Acid; MSG; Refined Sugar; and Aspartic Acid. I connected my two friends, but am still interested in the findings as a conscientious hostess. I thought it would make for a fine blog entry.
The million dollar question: What can she eat?????

Gluten: a composit of two proteins found in grass-related grains like wheat, rye and barley. (wiki)

Celiac's Disease is caused by a reaction to a gluten protein. http://www.celiac.com/ offers a wealth of information including recipes. The biggest task is reading labels - on everything that you would put in your mouth. Not only food products, but also Alcohol and OTC drugs. The average joe would be amazed at what has gluten thrown into the pot before selling a product!

There are books and websites that help point out the answer to our million dollar question. Bellow is some info that I found.

Book: Gluten Free Shopping Guide 2009/2010 edition
Basic Diet Information

"Safe Alcohol"
- many hard liquors and wine are safe if made from something other than wheat: potato vodka (Belvedere is my fav), rum, tequila, wines, gin, ciders, even gluten-free beer (read the labels - watch out for additives.)

"Safe Ingredients"
Corn Products (gluten, starch, meal, sugar, syrup, etc.)
Rice Products (flour, starch, syrup, vinegar)
Soy Products
Tapioca (flour, starch)

How to Adapt Recipes
1. Focus only on the items in the recipe that need to be adapted. Choose a recipe with very little flour or gluten-containing items. Sometimes the flour can be omitted. (Breading or flouring meats can easily be omitted for most recipes.) Concentrate on the major flavors. Serve simple fruit and vegetables while gaining skills. Think "omit" or "substitute" while reviewing a recipe. Perhaps mark problem ingredients in a recipe.

2. Avoid recipes that rely on convenience foods. Go back to the "from scratch" recipes the convenience food replaces. Learn to make the basic sauces and gravies often used in casseroles and soups.

3. Look in a gluten-free cookbook or Lifeline for a similar recipe. Compare proportions, they are the key. Flour and other ingredients that act as thickeners are compared to the amount of liquids in the recipe. Keep proportions nearly the same for your recipe. Given the same amount of liquid, it takes less starch to thicken than flour (cornstarch vs. corn flour).

4. Use commercial or home-made gluten-free substitutes. For example, gluten-free macaroni, bread and corn tortillas.

5. Don't make anything more complicated than it already is. But do take family health concerns, likes, dislikes and food dollars available into consideration.

I just made a great "gluten-free" breakfast: 1 egg (fried) and a salted sliced heirloom tomato from a neighbor. Tasty!

What are your best suggestions? Favorite meals? Favorite brands? Favorite websites?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beat the Chill with Cardamom and Coffee

The cool air of fall is finally decending on Minnesota. This is more shock than complaint. However, 80 degree weather everyday in September while I'm in SCHOOL while June, July and August was closer to 60 degrees... So strange. Today - I think it only went above 70 for a minute or two - so it's starting to feel like change is here!

Cardamom is one of my all time favorite tastes. It's unique and really brightens anything it touches. It seems especially appropriate for breakfast treats - probably because I grew up with Finnish Cardamom Bread - otherwise known as Biscuit.

Today - it was Cardamom Biscotti paired with papaya. Who would have guessed? It was delicious paired with my americano while hanging out at a cool St Paul coffee shop - Nina's on  Selby. You can check out my version (from my VERY FIRST POST!) on Banana Cardamom Biscotti or check out the tasty Chocolate Cherry Almond version if you are looking for some tasty recipes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Natural Sweetener: Maple Syrup in my coffee!

    Sometimes - I just can't sit in the library and I don't want to hold my condo hostage from my husband - so I go to a coffee shop to study.  
    Using maple syrup in my skim 3 shot latte was purely accidental - really more laziness in the guise of creative ingeniuity. Here I am with my highlighters, books and laptop spread out across the tiny little coffee-shop table. With everything in place - I didn't feel like walking over to the sugar and cream stand to make my strong latte a little more sweet. So - I used the maple syrup that came with my oatmeal.

First - maple syrup in oatmeal. This is really good! The taste is a bit more refined than just brown sugar. I think the liquid form also helped the taste spread through the oatmeal more easily and throroughly than sugar crystals.

Second - maple syrup in a latte is really fantastic. I learned (ck the food facts) that this natural sweetener is only 60% as sweet as white sugar. It also has added nutrients of Magnesium and Zinc. This is a much better alternative to unnatural *fake* sugar in my book! Of course, I'm not diabetic - so I don't have to worry about blood sugar issues.

I'm quite certain that this accidental and lazy discovery of mine has been perfected by many out in the world of foodie internets. So - what kind of suggestions do you have? Below are some more sites that I found interesting regarding the use of natural sweeteners - but I love hearing real stories!

LivRite alternative sweeteners in the home
US News article on natural sweeteners
Recipes from the Minnesota Maple Syrup Producers website

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Super Easy Pickled Peppers

Time to harvest the fruit and vegetables that have been growing in the garden! In my "urban" garden, our peppers really took off in late summer. I wanted to preserve them in some way - without needing to worry about canning methods or equipment. This whole process took about 20 minutes. Easy enough for anyone! The brine can be altered to your taste. Have fun.
Pickling some Peppers
Glass Jars with lids
1 pound fresh jalapeno peppers, washed (I added in 1 habenaro into each jar for color)
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups vinegar (I used white distilled vinegar)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons canning salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
2 tablespoons black peppercorns

1. Prepare the peppers: either slice or stab. I made one jar of sliced and two jars of whole peppers. For the whole peppers - cut an X in the tip and stab a few times in the sides. This helps the pickling juices penetrate the pepper. Put the peppers in the clean glass jars, leaving about 1 inch at the top.
2. Make the Brine: In a non-reactive saucepan, bring the other ingredients to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.
3. Fill the jars: Remove from heat and let cool for five minutes, then pour the brine over the jarred peppers. Place the lid on the jar and let cool. Once cool, refrigerate for at least a week before using, if possible.

Serving: whole peppers can be seeded before using if you want to difuse the heat. Otherwise, use these anytime you want a little heat. Great in quacamole, on baked potatoes, or on eggs. Anything really!

Storage: must remain refrigerated! These are not "canned" and do not have a shelf life. They will stay in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Special Thank You to M&H for the birthday gift card that paid for this little experiment! It covered 12 glass jars, that HUGE box of canning salt and vinegar. Looks like I need to do some more pickling!

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11: Nat'l Day of Service for foodies

Today is officially the National Day of Service and Remembrance as indicated in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.
Whatever your politics, Sept 11 should be an important day for all of us. I remember clearly where I was when I first learned of what was happening. Then watching events UNFOLD in front of me while I was glued to the news. It was such a strange day. Are we safe? How many people? Can we mourne, should we be fearful, what can I do?
Well, today - there is something that we should all do. Today is National Service Day - and many are joining activities over the weekend to help do their part.
Check out Serve.gov - where you can search for volunteer opportunities by location or keyword. Below are some fun activities for sharing your love and talent. What ideas do you have?
Kids in the Kitchen - make a meal for kids staying at the crisis nursery
Food Shelf grocery delivery
Food Shelter meal server
Food Digest Stories and Information- write synopsis of existing FOOD NEWS and information!
Find more in your neighborhood at serve.gov

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Best Burger in town? Burger Jones?

On a quest to find the best burger in the Minneapolis/St Paul metro area, H and I checked out Burger Jones this past weekend.

It got off to a great start when our waitress dropped off a free terrine of fries! It included seasoned waffle fries, russet fries, and sweet potato fries. Along side of the threesome was a trio of dipping sauces. All housemade - the ranch was my favorite, but the seasoned sour cream and chipotle aioli held their own on the table. The terrine could have fed 12 people - this photo was taken after we made our dent.

On to our dinner. H ordered the "White Trash" burger and I got the housemade veggie burger - a weak attempt to keep it healthy.

WT burger: juicy, medium rare beef topped with fried cheese curds, chicken fried bacon, and a thick slab of velveeta.

Veggie Burger: a mix of mushrooms and beans with cornmeal to hold it together. The cornmeal makes this stand apart from other house-made mushy burgers. It wasn't crunchy - but not mushy either. A tomato slice under the burger and topped with a little pico and cilantro.

We didn't have the stomach space for one of the 'hard shakes' on the menu. It would be a really fun thing to do on a hot afternoon HH on their patio. Maybe next time.
So - there it is. Check out the tally on the sidebar. You can see this wasn't our favorite so far - just the lucky one that got a few photos taken during dinner. Looking for suggestions! Where should we go next?