Monday, September 26, 2011

Banana Almond Butter Pancakes


I have to admit - stopping long enough to take
this picture was difficult!
I've already explained this little thing I have with Sunday nights. I always get a burst of energy that comes with a creative urge to do something that is probably a much larger endeavor than I should attempt. Maybe it's a sad attempt to prolong the inevitable Monday morning. This website is actually the fault of a Sunday night...but I digress. Yesterday was a lovely Sunday: the weather was finally showing signs of fall, I had some minor successes in the kitchen (quick bratwurst recipe coming soon!), and we had come from the farmers market with some great finds.

As I stood in the kitchen with restless energy, knowing very well that my hunger was going to drive my evening late night activities, I looked around to see what was available. Sadly, while we had bought some beautiful dino egg pluots and fresh apples, that certainly wasn't going to be enough to fill the giant void in my stomach nor sooth my creative impulse. It occurred to me that we hadn't done the "regular" shopping, so I'd have to improvise.

Two of the pluots from the market needed to be eaten right away. More on that later. With that in mind, I gathered these rather pathetic looking ingredients (including my very last and seriously overripe banana) and preheated the oven. 

almond butter, spice (coffee) grinder, egg, banana, dried coconut
Had I known this creation would turn out so well, I would've done it much sooner. 

Banana Almond Butter Pancakes
with Sweet Roasted Pluots

Pancakes



1 tbsp almond butter
1 egg
1 ripe banana
1 tbsp coconut flour*
pinch of cinnamon, optional
Butter or coconut oil (for cooking)

*I generally don't have coconut flour on hand, so I throw dried, shredded (unsweetened!) coconut into the spice grinder (which is a coffee grinder we don't use for coffee) for 20-30 seconds. Works great, although it's best to do more than 2 tbsp at a time, so I put what's left in a baggie and save it for next time. 

Serves one hungry person or two less hungry people!

Directions (this is pretty darn easy)

1. Combine almond butter, egg, banana, coconut flour (and cinnamon) with a fork until blended, smashing and stirring until most or all of the banana lumps are gone.
2. Heat oil/butter in your favorite frying pan over medium-low heat (we used a non-stick for this)
3. Cook on medium-low (or low) until golden brown on each side. These do not bubble the same way "regular pancakes" do - watch for the edges to start to cook, and just a few bubbles to form before flipping them.

I found that these pancakes cook best in oil/butter so they will brown well rather than burn.

I'm sure this would work with a hand blender, but it was fast this way
...and that's one less thing to drag out/clean/put away!
Ready to flip!

Sweet Roasted Pluots

pluots (we used two)
sugar (if they need sweetening)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Wash and cut pluots into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with sugar (brown or white). I'm sure honey would be a great sweetener (let me know how they turn out if you try it).
Roast 10-15 minutes until soft. We used a glass baking dish.
If you want the sugar to caramelize, place it under the broiler.

We started the pluots and put them in the oven before cooking the pancakes. The timing seemed just right.
Pluots just out of the oven
Enjoy! I ate this with a large dollop of whipped cream because I had some cream in the fridge. It would  be fabulous with some coconut whipped cream or just some straight coconut cream drizzled over it. 

Our lazy kitchen hack for the whipping cream was to pour it into a short glass and use a milk frother. It worked! The poor frother thought it was a bit much, but it was easier than dragging out the big guns!

Note the cute little heart on the bottom right! I did that on purpose.
Actually, I didn't, but I learned that wherever there was no butter, the pancake got darker.
Pretty cool if you ask me. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mmmmmm...Meatballs!

Italian Meatballs with awesome sauce - a very geometric dinner.
(Yes, slangsters, I just said "awesome sauce")
What's for dinner? It seems to be the forever unresolved question, since I'm not exactly the queen of planning ahead, and well...I'm always hungry. While a bit more than a 30 minute meal, these meatballs are versatile, make excellent left overs (if you can keep any that long), and make use of things you likely have in the fridge already. This meal actually came about from a conversation that started something like, "what am I supposed to do with all of this left over pulp from juicing?"
Juice = meatballs. Yep, makes sense to me.

This recipe can easily be doubled if you'd like to have more left over, or maybe freeze some for next week.

Italian Meatballs


1 pound ground meat (I used beef this time. Beef/pork is a great combination)
1 egg
1/4 large yellow onion, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed
Juicer pulp from 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery (with leaves) and 1 apple (gala or fuji)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cayanne pepper
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped


Preheat oven to 350. Mix all meatball ingredients (by hand is best!) in a large bowl.
If you don't have carrot/celery/apple pulp - you can use the same ingredients grated or chopped, but use half of the original amount. The apple is optional, but does provide a very subtle mouthwatering sweetness.
Shape meat into golf ball sized balls. Arrange in mini-muffin tins for great browning, or just put them all in a square glass baking pan.
Bake until lightly browned, 30-35 minutes.

What's the white stuff? Salt. Yeah, I forgot to mix it in, so I just
sprinkledit on top before cooking. Turned out really well!
The verdict around the table was that it was plenty salty.
Not that I'd generally recommend forgetting the salt...
(Awesome) Sauce


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed
4 tomatoes, diced (I used two romas and two small dark heirlooms from the garden)
1/4 tsp dried oregano
sea salt (to taste)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Heat olive oil in a sauce pan or saute pan on medium high. Add all ingredients except fresh herbs (If you have the patience to saute the onions and garlic first, go for it, but I threw everything in tonight and it was great!). Add fresh rosemary (to be removed later!). If you don't have fresh rosemary, use 1/4 tsp dried. Cover and cook on medium heat until tomatoes break down, about 20 minutes.
Remove lid and cook out excess moisture. Remove rosemary. Add fresh basil, stir and serve!

Need I say it again? Sauce. Awesome.



Meatballs can be elegant - just add soft lighting and fresh rosemary.

Variations, thoughts, improvements


-The meatballs would be great with all kinds of different herbs - some fresh parsley or sage would be fabulous. I take it kind of easy on seasonings, so dump 'em on in if you feel like it.
-If you want saucier meatballs, cook them in the sauce. You may want to add a little tomato paste with a touch of water.
-This would be a great pot luck dish out of a crock pot - needs some extra sauce to wade in and some toothpicks for serving.
-This would taste amazing on or with my new favorite rosemary almond bread (recipe forthcoming)
-If you want spaghetti and meatballs, serve on cooked spaghetti squash or grated zucchini

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tasty Grain-Free Almond Meal Cheese Crackers


I have gone grain-free. Grain. Free. Why, oh, why would I do that to myself? Well, in short, I'm not healthy yet. I'm not totally recovered from my standing-too-close-to-the-Grimm-Reaper experience a couple years back. Going gluten-free helped... I was able to do some work, and limited socializing, but I'm not all the way back to me yet. Frankly, that sucks. So, willing to do anything that's fairly low risk, and after reading a bunch on cross-contamination and cross-reactivity, I decided to give it a shot. It's only been two weeks, but I already have more energy and am sleeping better. My appetite is more normal, too. The side-effect is that I think about food. A lot. Especially the new list of things I can't have! I'd finally adjusted, and now this?

There's good news though! Shopping is easier! There is very little label reading, because I'm not buying many things in packages. The other thing? I love the internet. I mean, seriously... we can share ideas and successes and failures. And, of course -- ingredients and recipes. I've gotten a ton of inspiration from the Paleo/Caveman Diet people and the Raw Foodists. I've found some wonderful and naturally gluten-free ideas from those communities!

So, these little crackers were such a welcome addition to my grain-free world. I was amazed how much they look like Wh*** Thins (bad word!), and how much better (and more versatile) they are! Last night, I toasted them and make mini-pizzas. But that's a story for another time.

Let's talk about almonds and almond meal for a moment. This is one of the areas that the world hasn't quite come to an agreement on. For our purposes, however, some definitions:

Almond Meal: A more coarse version of almond flour that generally keeps the skins on the almonds
Almond Flour: Made from either blanched ground almonds or fine powdery remnants of cutting almonds.

Both types can be purchased, and not all brands are equal. Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour is rather coarse while Honeyville Blanched Almond Meal Flour is a much finer flour.

Whatever you get, store it in the freezer. All of the yummy nut oils can go rancid, so unless you're using it fairly quickly, keep it sealed up and cold. It's a good idea to let it warm to room temperature before baking with it. If you use it frequently, store a week's worth in your pantry.

For this recipe, I prefer a coarser Almond Meal. And, if you're feeling spunky, you can make your own (it's truly not that hard, and I love the fresh taste). I buy raw almonds from my local farmers' market.

Homemade Almond Meal

Place raw almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet or pie pan
Roast in the oven at 375° for 7-9 minutes

Almonds are done when they are fragrant and slightly less soft. They will become more crisp as they cool. The inside should just be starting to change to a more golden color. If they turn brown, they will taste burnt or toasty. Don't throw those away... chop them up and serve them on ice-cream!

Remove from pan (almonds will keep cooking slightly)
Allow to cool before processing (I make a big batch to snack on days in advance)
Pulse almonds in the food processor until they are a rough meal. If it starts to turn into almond butter, you've gone too far!

Tasty Grain-Free Almond Meal Cheese Crackers

1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup grated cheese (I prefer Sharp Cheddar)
1 egg white
Salt to taste (1/4 tsp or so)
Baking Soda (optional - I put in about 1/6 tsp)

Pre-heat oven to 350°
Cut two pieces of parchment paper the size of a cookie sheet (the parchment is important!)

Mix almond meal, cheese, salt and baking soda thoroughly. I pulse it in the food processor for fast and easy mixing.
Add egg white and mix thoroughly. This will turn it into dough.
Place dough between the two sheets of parchment and roll thin. Try to cover as much of the baking sheet as possible - rolling dough very thin. Thin = crispy!
Cut to desired cracker size (1-2 inch squares) with a pizza cutter

Bake at 350 for 10-13 minutes. It should be brown around the edges.
Cool and enjoy!

Roasted Almonds

Rolling out the dough

Cut before cooking

I stayed up late snacking on these crackers and deciding my next use for them. I think next time I'll add garlic and herbs. Mmmm. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fried Bananas with Cinnamon and Maple Syrup


I spent this last weekend in beautiful Primm, NV. Yup. Have you ever been to Primm? Heard of it?It's the place with three casinos and a roller coaster right on the border of Nevada and California. Don't be too overwhelmed with excitement, now, but did you know Buffalo Bill's Resort and Casino has a buffalo shaped swimming pool? No, seriously....

(Note the lack of people. The water was freezing...and pretty dirty).

The good news is that the weekend was filled with music. There were singers from CA, Nevada and Southern Utah. We all performed, then stayed up 'til 2am singing and carrying on, and fortunately, the management was insightful enough to give us a suite at the very end of the hallway to use just for that purpose. Didn't even get one noise complaint (unlike *cough* some events *cough*).

The bad news is there was really nothing for me to eat there. I mean, I could've probably wrestled with some manager somewhere and ended up with a dry piece of plain chicken or a salad, but seriously, in the crowded land of cheap buffets and booze, I really didn't want to take that risk. Fortunately, we've upgraded our road-trip travel kitchen to include a hotplate, GREATLY expanding the menu choices from just the rice cooker. (Shhh! Don't tell management!)


Ok, that's the last unrelated picture for the day, I promise =)

So, here's the thing... unless I want to bring the ENTIRE kitchen to an event like this, food gets a little repetitive. So, when I get home and am cranky, sleepy, and exhausted, I really crave something new. So, tonight, while staring blankly at the pile of accumulated mail, I noticed the over-stock of bananas left over from the trip.

So, fried bananas it was.

It's a good thing I have a man that enables allows me indulge in these late night impulse-cooking sessions. =)

So, we fired up the stove. It was easy and tasty. We came up with a great, simple dessert that would also be great with ice cream or french toast.

Fried Bananas with Cinnamon and Maple Syrup

Ingredients

Bananas, 1 per person, quartered
Butter (salted), 1 tbsp per banana
Sugar, 1 tbsp per banana
Maple syrup to taste
Cinnamon to taste

Directions

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat
Sprinkle sugar on a small saucer or plate
Place flat side of each banana into the sugar, then place in pan
Cook for 6-8 minutes, until banana is golden brown
Drizzle maple syrup over each banana piece, then turn over
Cook 3-5 more minutes until bananas are cooked through

Remove from heat and sprinkle with cinnamon
Enjoy the gooey, warm, caramelized tasty goodness with fresh berries or ice cream!

Here are some photos from the process. Perfect golden brown. That's a scan pan in case you were wondering:

For our first batch, we didn't add the maple syrup. Still tasty. Have I mentioned I love blackberry season?

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celiac Disease Awareness Month

Welcome to May. On the heels of headline-worthy world-wide news lurks some of the lesser-known observances in May. The National Health information center at healthfinder.gov lists over 33 health-related observances this month. Why do we need to know about Toxic Encephalopathy or Cornelia de Lange Syndrome? I say, it is precisely for the same reason many of you just made a face, raised an eyebrow, or stumbled over those few words: because we don’t know much about them, and they affect people on a daily basis. I’ll save my soapbox lecture about health research and pharmaceutical companies, but I will state that the less well-known a disease is, the harder it is to find good information and care. Some conditions make day-to-day living an obvious chore, while others silently cripple with very little notice from the outside world.

I urge you to learn about something new. Find out about Sj√∂gren’s Syndrome, Type 1 Diabetes or Hashimoto’s Disease. Statistically, you’ll know someone with one of these, and might not know it. Understand thy neighbor; walk a mile in their shoes. You’ll probably get along a lot better if you do. I’ll get you started.

May is Celiac Disease awareness month.

If you know me, if you know someone that has Celiac, you know of the existence of this condition. You may not know what each day is like. I’ll do my best to explain. It’s a long post... but you get a gold star if you make it all the way to the end. If you are gluten-free, there’s nothing new here, but do feel free to share this link if you don’t want to write your own explanation.

I don’t write to receive pity or sympathy. I simply want to share in the hope that I can help even one person understand. Statistically, it is projected that 1 in 133 people have Celiac Disease. Only about 3% of those are diagnosed. I’d venture to say you know at least one person that is affected... whether or not you (or they) know it.

I’ll start out by acknowledging that each person with Celiac has a unique experience. Some have an easy time of it and never become ill. Some have to quit their jobs, change their lives, and take years to regain their health. All need to avoid gluten (wheat, rye, barley and contaminated grains like most oats). Celiac not only destroys the lining of the small intestine (the villi, actually), it can also keep the body from getting the vital nutrients it needs. I could write pages on what that can do, but suffice it to say, it can effect every system in the body.

I happen to be one of the lucky few that had a health crisis in order to come to my diagnosis. I say “lucky” only sort of in jest. I am motivated to never “cheat” on my “diet”. When you are faced with eating a certain way as the only way to help you stay functional, it doesn’t even cross your mind to knowingly consume something you shouldn’t. It’s not a preference, it’s a need. In that, I am indeed lucky.

Just Don’t Eat It

It sounds fairly easy to avoid gluten. Don’t eat bread. Eat fruits, veggies, meat, and legumes. Even rice and buckwheat are ok! But it’s not that simple. How were they processed? Were they prepared on a surface where there was bread or flour? Did the meat get a drop of soy sauce (most has wheat) on it from the pre-marinated chicken that can be purchased at most supermarkets? Were the chickpeas hauled in a truck or stored in a silo that previously held wheat? I found a piece of wheat (might have been barley) in my minute rice once (no, it wasn’t un-hulled rice, verified by a farmer). Consider that for a moment. I look at every grain of rice that I am going to eat.

Here’s a fun fact: Wheat flour can stay airborne for 24 hours. Think of the implications: eating at friends' houses, walking past the bakery in the grocery store, eating at a pizza place that proudly advertises gluten-free pizza. Q: If I breathe wheat flour, will I get sick? A: Depends. How much? For how long? How sensitive am I that day?

I have indeed been “glutened” in a similar way. High school kids stepping on Cheerios made a huge mess outside my classroom. When I went out to tell them to clean it up, a big gust of wind came up - Cheerio dust in my eyes and nose found its way in, even though I immediately washed out every crevice in my face and mouth. It was not a good afternoon.

For the record, it is a big argument even in the medical community how much gluten will cause a reaction. Ask any sensitive Celiac and they will tell you, it really only takes a a speck or crumb.

Each Day

On a “regular” day, food is very much the center of attention. I have to plan every bit of food I consume. Personally, my system is so sensitive that I’ve had to eliminate not just gluten, but caffeine, corn, and much processed food. I’m also on a high calorie diet. So, someone has to prepare five meals a day for me. Hint: that someone does not make minimum wage, wear a paper hat or a green apron. All of that food is prepared at home.

Even products at the store marked “gluten-free” aren’t always safe. There are more rules about catching trout than there are about labeling foods. Sometimes they are processed on lines that have processed wheat. Some products (like a certain rice milk) were processed with barley enzymes - a process that does not need to be labeled. The standard is anything with “less than 20 parts per million” can be labeled GF and are “generally recognized as safe”. Studies have shown some Celiacs can react to less than that.

Aside from food, any product that might possibly make its way to any mucous membrane needs to be free of gluten. Yes, some Celiacs still use shampoo with wheat germ oil. I’m not interested in taking that risk, thank you. Everything that comes into my house gets screened. And by everything, I mean everything, including: soap, lotion, cat food (she likes to lick my face...it’s weird), vitamins, feminine hygiene products (yes, I found one that has wheat in it), toothpaste, dental floss, makeup, etc. I even throw away the first paper towel because some adhesives contain gluten, and the manufacturer states that it might. Might be excessive, but I’m not taking that risk.

Even kisses are screened. When he gets a brownie, so do I, whether I want one or not.

Interacting With People

I am a people person. My career and personal life put me in a position where I am with people a lot. Whenever there are groups of people, there will be food. An example: I sing in a chorus with some wonderful, amazing women. At an all day rehearsal, invariably these lovely ladies will bring food to share. Therefore, lined up at the entrance of the room is a table full of pizza, crumb cake, bagels, cake and donuts. I love that about them - a wonderful gesture, right? It’s not a problem for me to smile and walk past the table. I’ve even learned to be happy for everyone else that they can eat cake. BUT... picture THAT many crumbs on hands, tables, chairs, and my favorite: if you speak while eating, food WILL come out of your mouth. It might land on my food, it might land in my eye, or in my mouth. Yes it’s disgusting, but for me it’s also dangerous. That happened to me at a funeral once. No kidding. Someone was eating a chocolate-chip cookie and sprayed cookie crumbs directly into my face. Talk about a bad day made worse.

If someone refuses your handshake, don’t take it personally. Maybe they have a life-threatening peanut allergy and just saw you eating mixed nuts. Maybe they are immunocompromised (like me) and don’t want to catch a bug that you just picked up from the doorknob on the way out of the bathroom after washing your hands.

Eating Out

There are very, very few restaurants that can accommodate me. Even if it says “gluten-free” on the menu, it doesn’t mean it can be prepared safely. Have you even been served water at a restaurant and seen a crumb floating in it? Have you ever ordered your dressing on the side, yet there was a drip of it on your salad? Or a stray spaghetti noodle? Seen a waiter accidentally stick his thumb in food before serving it to you?

Last time I went to PF Chang’s (they are usually VERY good), it took them three tries to get my order right. By that time I was so anxious about whether or not what they gave me was safe that I could hardly eat it. Happy Birthday to me. Next year, I’ll eat at home.

In my kitchen at home I’ve replaced most of my cookware. I can’t expect most places to have safe cookware. I got sick once when I make my GF rice pasta at a friend’s house - in retrospect, it was probably a little gluten hiding under the little rivets that hold the handle on. Or maybe the lid. I wouldn’t dream of sharing a colander with “regular” pasta.

At another local restaurant, after reviewing their GF menu, speaking with the manager,
being assured that they use safe practices in the kitchen, I still got hit hard. I spent the next eight hours curled up on my bathroom floor writhing in pain. When that happens, it usually takes a couple weeks to feel normal again.

Socializing and Holidays

Much of our social life really does revolve around food. How often have you been at the “main event” (movie, ball game, work, rehearsal), and someone wants to hang out longer, so they suggest going out to eat? Happens all the time. Girls night/boys night out almost always starts with dinner. Then the question becomes - should we invite the one with the “weird food issues”? And if we do, does that mean we can’t go out to our favorite place with those great desserts?

Just about any holiday brings with it its own set of food traditions. When I’m at home in the safety of my own kitchen, I can make anything gluten-free. Cake, stuffing, casseroles, pasta...done! When heading elsewhere, I don’t count on it. I’m ok with bringing my own food. But I admit it’s hard. When everyone else is sampling the turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade biscuits, cookies and cakes, it is difficult. Even harder when the person sitting next to you is getting biscuit crumbs everywhere and keeps reaching over your plate. Oh, and then takes his apple-pie laden fork and points at something in the middle of your plate (I’m not making this stuff up, folks!). It's hard to not feel assaulted sometimes.

Turkey is gluten-free, isn’t it?

Well, naturally, yes. But the illusion of being able to eat one somewhere else was thrown right out the window at my first gluten-free Thanksgiving with friends. It was a gorgeous, huge bird. Perfectly browned. It was pulled out of the oven and straight on to the cutting board. The wooden cutting board... where bread is routinely cut. If that weren’t enough, the electric knife that cut the turkey was serrated, and who knows what it had cut a few minutes before. Oh, and there was stuffing in the bird.

That turkey was very much not gluten-free.

How about ground beef on the BBQ, that’s a no-brainer, right? Well, what else are you cooking? Did you have something marinated next to it? Did you (or have you ever) toast(ed) your bun on that grill? Because if so, no, it’s not ok. Not to mention the beer you’re drinking that dribbles down the bottle and lands on the surface where you have been resting your spatula.

I could go on, but I’m hoping you get the idea. On the way out, I’ll spark your interest with a few more considerations that I’ll let you explore in your own mind: work luncheons, dating, raising little kids, parties, sharing drinks, business lunches, travel, long flights, travel to foreign countries where they do not speak the language, work/hobby weekend retreats, emergencies, and seminars with tight schedules. It’s an adventure!

I’ve been gluten-free for two years. I really don’t miss the gluten that much. I miss the convenience and the social aspect more than anything. The next time you’re with a friend that has unique needs, whether a food allergy/intolerance, wheelchair/mobility issues, silent disease or anything else, take the time to understand their needs. Get out of the box and your own comfort zone... a world of possibility awaits, it just may be a little different than the one you're accustomed to.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gluten-Free Beer-Battered Fish Tacos


When I moved to San Diego for school, the locals set out to quickly indoctrinate me show me around and share all of their unique Southern CA favorites. The site-seeing was fun, but the food? ...it was...different. I mean, seriously, they put french fries in burritos here. Strange people! Enter the fish taco.

I sat at an outdoor table at the local Rubio's staring at my first fish taco while a small crew of miscreants cheered me on. They instructed me in the proper preparation (lime, salsa), and eagerly awaited my first taste because they knew what would happen. I honestly can't remember if I liked it. What I can tell you is (as they expected) it became a pretty serious addiction - or at very least a dietary staple that I craved multiple times per week. Since then, I've eaten hundreds of these warm crisp battered fish stuffed into soft corn tortillas dressed with cool cabbage, sauces, and a splash of lime.

It was definitely one of the foods (along with Cheerios and pot stickers) that I would truly mourn the loss of.

So, last time my parents visited, we (mom, dad, myself and Brad) rolled up our sleeves and set off to create the perfect gluten-free beer battered fish taco. They turned out wonderfully! I'm sure you'll know exactly what I mean when I said the first bite was so good I cried.

Amazing Gluten-Free Beer Battered Fish Tacos

Ingredients

Oil for deep frying (we used sunflower oil)
2 lbs fish fillet (any white fish, but cod is best), cut to approx 1"x1"x5"
1 cup rice flour (plus about 3/4 cups for dredging)
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup cold gluten-free beer (or carbonated water)
2 eggs
1 tsp seasoning (choose from the following *recommended always)
*salt and pepper
*garlic powder
onion powder
paprika
mexican oregano
cayanne
ancho

Instructions

I recommend preparing condiments and side dishes first, since once the fish frying process is started, it is hard to multi-task.

Optional: Preheat oven to 250° to keep fish warm after it is fried
1. Gently wash fish in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
2. Preheat oil for deep frying (350°)
3. Spread approx 3/4 cup rice flour on plate or pie tin for dredging fish
4. Mix remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl
5. Whisk together eggs and beer, then add to dry ingredients and mix until smooth
(Beer will result in a much tastier fish taco than soda water will. We've used both New Planet and Redbridge successfully.)
6. Roll fish pieces in rice flour, then drop in batter. Coat thoroughly.
7. Carefully drop fish into the hot oil. Cook in small batches (2-3 pieces), turning frequently. Cook for 6-8 minutes until the batter is golden brown and the fish is cooked thoroughly.
8. Drain on paper towel, then transfer to oven to keep warm.

Assemble and enjoy!

Dredging the fish

Frying

This particular day, we had many hands to do the work, so we created a true feast. White sauce, lime, and cabbage are the most important ingredients, but for the ultimate meal, I recommend serving with:

-white sauce: sour cream thinned with lime
-chopped cabbage (for an extra kick, squeeze lime on the chopped cabbage before returning it to the refrigerator)
-Salsa Fresca
-more lime (squeeze over finished taco)
-avocado
-cilantro
-seasoned pinto beans (powdered spices: onion, garlic, cumin, salt)
-tortilla of choice (warmed)

Since I can't tolerate corn, we cut up some rice tortillas into a more usable size for a taco

And turned the trimmings into chips (coated with oil/salt and baked at 450° for 5 minutes)

Happy Eating!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Zucchini Flax Wraps


Taking charge of my health over the last few years has been a truly fascinating experience. Among the many thing that I have learned is that no one person - no one system - has all of the answers. The internet has answers, oh yes! Cures and recommendations I've read have ranged from casting a spell to taking an experimental pill. It seems that any question that can be raised has thousands of answers which may or may not work. I have found, however, that no system should be dismissed entirely. Truth can be found in the most unlikely places: a metaphysicist can teach you to look beyond what you see, an agnostic can teach you to trust yourself, and a follower of religion can teach you to have faith, even if you can't see the road ahead.

As I have been refining my diet to find my optimal fuel, I stumbled across the raw community. While this doesn't seem to be the right complete fuel for me, most raw food is gluten-free. Not only did the raw food train open up my eyes to wonderful new ways of preparing veggies, fruits and nuts, but it has shown me ingenious ways to wrap things! I'm a bit surprised I don't see more of my gluten-free people delving into this world of dehydrators, spiral slicers and soaked nuts.

So, my head experimenter (mom) ordered a dehydrator, a handful of books, and the experiment began!

Zucchini flax wraps are a great bread/tortilla substitute. They are flexible and colorful, not to mention versatile. This recipe, adapted from The Art of Raw Living Food: Heal Yourself and the Planet with Eco-delicious Cuisine is earthy and flavorful. And, if you'll pardon my raw food blasphemy it makes a great grilled chicken sandwich. Although, I'll admit it's plenty tasty without chicken.

Try not to be intimidated by all of the steps if you're new to this. It's really as simple as blend, spread, dry. After you do it twice, you'll be an expert.

Zucchini Flax Wrap Recipe

2 zucchini ("large", by grocery store standards)
1 1/2 cups ground flax seed (Brown or Golden - golden will be a more mild flavor)
1 clove garlic
2 cups water
salt to taste (1/4 tsp)
Fresh Basil (about 2 leaves)
Fresh Rosemary (about 1 tsp)
Fresh Thyme (about 1 tsp)
(alternatively substitute 1 Tbsp dried Italian herbs for fresh herbs)

I use a dedicated blade coffee grinder to grind flax seeds (and other non-coffee spices). You likely won't like your coffee or your flax seed if you share your spice grinder with coffee! You can buy ground flax seed, but it's much, much better to do it yourself (not to mention seeds have a significantly longer shelf life before they're ground).

Process all items except flax in a high powered blender. If you don't have one, get one =) (I love my Blendtec). If you can't get one, process in a food processor then transfer to a blender. You'll need the space when you add the flax seed.

Add the flax seed and blend well. The flax powder will start to soak up the liquid and thicken the mix immediately, so have your dehydrator tray ready to go. You'll need to use the fruit-roll up type of tray.

Spread very thin (1/8 inch) and dehydrate.

How hot? How long? Well, here's the tricky part (which I discovered is tricky as a novice at the art of dehydrating). It depends. The thicker you spread the mixture, the longer it will take. If you have a fancy 9 tray Excalibur dehydrator with side air-flow and Teflex sheets, it will not take as long (4-6 hrs at 105, but you know that already if you own an Excalibur!).

We have a fan on top dehydrator. Here's what we did:
Start dehydrator at 145 degrees for one hour. Reduce temperature to 105 (You can skip the step, of starting it at a high temp, but it does speed up the process).
Walk away from the dehydrator. Come back in a few hours (4 or so) and flip the wraps onto the regular tray. Dehydrate for three more hours. It's really a fairly forgiving cooking method, but it will take a some paying attention to psyche out your dehydrator.

OR

Set dehydrator to 105 and leave it on all night. Wake up and wrap lunch to go!

Your wraps are done when they feel like a tortilla - flexible, but not wet. If they dry too long, enjoy your zucchini flax crackers!

But it seems like SO much work! It's not. Remember, blend, spread, dehydrate. These will keep up to 30 days in the refrigerator.

Serving suggestion:

Fill wrap with:
Ripe avocado - spread on wrap (the moisture is helpful. If you're making the wrap ahead of time, it's best to save this step until you're ready to eat it)
Grilled chicken (lemon/pepper is delicious)
Dark leafy greens
Grilled or fresh onion
A squeeze of lemon

Enjoy!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fresh Heirloom Tomato and Cilantro Salsa

It's spring in San Diego. Never mind that it's still January -- ten straight days of 70+ degree weather -- winter has left the building.

I have a new Sunday addiction. The local farmers market. We have a beautiful, large market in town that has fresh produce, flowers, local products, plus rows of booths with pre-cooked foods - most of which I can't eat. I was surprised and pleased to see a new booth of corn-free, gluten-free desserts that looked wonderful! Of course, I had my eyes set on a snack from Peace Pies, a raw, vegan, organic gluten-free local shop that sells everything from lemon bars to falafel. And of course, their signature pies.

The other thing I'm addicted to on Sundays is sleeping in. That makes these two addictions fight a bit, because by the time I'm fed, dressed, and fed again, it's a race to make it there in time. (Fed = mornings are rough. I wish I could just hook up a feeding tube for mornings! Getting food in me in the am is a little like giving my cat a pill. But that's a story for another time)

As I walked past Peace Pies booth today a few moments before closing time, they were mostly sold out. Fortunately, a lone lemon bar reached out and grabbed me. My mouth and stomach are still thanking it for being so forward. My wallet thanks it for keeping me from buying everything I in sight. Don't shop when you're hungry, right?

I've taken a hiatus from tomatoes for a while. All nightshades, actually. But, I've been reintroducing them, and it seems to be working out so far. Thank goodness, because the heirloom tomatoes were out in full force today. Beautiful, colorful, and placed close enough to the cilantro to firmly plant the idea of fresh salsa in my mind.

Brad is kind enough to cart chauffeur me to the market, smile nicely at my excitement over the ripe avocados, and carry armloads of whatever my impulse buy of the day is. He is also kind enough to talk me out of the supercoolhavetohaveitrightnow items that I really shouldn't spend my money on.

We made out with a sack full of goodies for the week, mostly revolving around Mexican flavors. I picked up an organic pepper and asked the man behind the counter what it was. "Poblano". That sort of rang a bell...and sounded spicy. I figured that would do for salsa.

When we got home, I needed salsa. I needed salsa now. We fired up the bbq, preheated the oven for chips, and off we went.


Fresh Heirloom Tomato and Cilantro Salsa
The camera doesn't do it justice. It's really beautiful.


I should say here again that both Brad and I are just now starting the adventure of learning how to cook. We've mastered which end of the knife to hold (usually), and can often avoid repeating the same mistake. repeating the same mistake. repeating the same... When we come up with something great, however, it is a moment to rejoice. So, I'll share this moment with you.

This salsa is wonderful.

Ingredients:

Five medium tomatoes
Juice of one half of a lime
One half a medium onion
A little bit of a grilled poblano pepper
A few sprigs of cilantro
Salt
Black pepper (optional)

About the poblano pepper - This was our first time cooking with one of these tasty-spicy characters. Once it's open or cooked, you shouldn't handle it with bare hands. We used plastic wrap and knife and fork. It really wasn't hard, and thanks to the kindness of some youtube cooks, we didn't screw it up too much. You might want to find an instructional video, but in short:

Grill (on BBQ or gas stove) or broil pepper until it's charred all over. Remove from heat and place it in a ziplock baggie or plastic bag (a covered dish would work) for five minutes. This will help the charred skin separate from the insides.

After five minutes, slice the pepper halfway though, down it's long side. Cut off the top and remove all of the seeds. If you don't, You'll have unpleasantly hot salsa.

With the knife, scrape the cooked flesh (the inside) off the charred skin. We found that for perfectly medium (towards mild) salsa, a one-inch square of pepper was just right.

While the pepper is cooking, dice the tomatoes and onion.

Combine tomatoes, lime juice, onion, salt and pepper, and poblano pepper in a bowl. Make sure that the poblano breaks up and stirs in evenly. You can always add more poblano, but you can't take it away once it's in there! Use some caution.

Chop and add the cilantro (cilantro tastes best newly chopped - it gets that old soapy flavor if you let it sit).

If you can stand to let it sit in the fridge a while, do... the flavors will combine nicely. But, it is best to add the cilantro just before serving.

Enjoy!

Now, if you're curious what it would look like from a food processor:


It's not quite as pretty as the salsa fresca style, but it still tastes good, and if you don't like biting into onion pieces, this may be better for you. The orange color is from the variety of tomatoes we used with oranges and yellows marbled with the red. It's pretty runny, so it would be good poured on something with nooks and crannies. We ended up straining it since it was so watery. I suppose a pro might seed and core the tomato... but I don't mind the juicy stuff.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Traveling Gluten-Free

I'm a risk taker about a lot of things. Real estate investment? Go for it. New job? Sure. Performing in front of ten thousand people? Bring it on! I won't take risks about my food though. A few places "get it": Disneyland, select restaurants in Del Mar, Seattle, and New York...and pretty much most of Italy. But other than that, I like my food from my own kitchen.

The last way I want to spend my vacation (or business meeting, or...) is doubled over on the bathroom floor, or rushing off to the local ER to get a dehydration-fighting IV. I mean, I'm sure the local nurses are nice and all... but if I'm going to take changes I'm going to take them with the comfort of my own bed and team of caretakers nearby. At least for now. Maybe I'll take more chances when I'm healthier.

This is difficult when traveling, though. There are a few great go-to travel snacks that don't need refrigeration: Rice Thins, San-J Crackers, my favorite Boulder Potato Chips... but those certainly won't sustain me through a weekend. My trusted consultants and wonderful man have put our heads together to find some travel tricks that work. The first trip we took required a solid week of planning. I'm glad to say our last short weekend jaunt took us two short hours to pack and leave (including clothes, etc). Plus one quick grocery trip.

On our first multi-day trip, the man (let's call him Brad) and I found gorgeous accommodations with a full kitchen. We packed an entire large suitcase of kitchen supplies which we lugged across the country. Now, I'm not sure how avoidable some of that is, but we're learning to narrow it down.

The last trip we made was a short car trip. We got away with one bag of food and one bag of kitchen supplies.... though there was no kitchen at the hotel.

On this trip, we brought:
One-Serving Blender (for breakfast smoothies)
Travel Spice Holder
Rice cooker with steamer basket
A paring knife
Small cutting board (sometimes this kind)

Plus aluminum foil, disposable dishes and silverware.

Since this was our first experience cooking a meal with a rice cooker, we kept it simple.

We first measured rice and water as usual, then started it in the cooker with the lid on.
Then Brad chopped garlic, carrots, celery and zucchini.


Then we built a little aluminum foil basket where we steamed the veggies with a big pat of butter.


The veggies were cooked perfectly - sweet and just the right amount of soft. Mmmm.

When that was finished, we dumped in some black beans to heat which we served with a sour cream dip - (we added onion and garlic powder to each). Oh, one more thing... we steamed an extra whole clove of garlic to mix in with the sour cream dip. Then ate it with the aforementioned addictive potato chips.

It was a great experiment and we're learning more all the time.

Turns out, there are experts in rice cooker meals ... there's an entire sub-culture of people that cook this way! Why didn't I look this up when I thought of it?

Beautiful meals! Are you kidding me? NY Times did this writeup.

Consider me humbled. Next time I travel (or I'm stuck in one of those bad dorm rooms at a conference), I'm packing the rice cooker.

Happy Travels.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

World's Easiest Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

Even though there are a lot of gluten-free foods and candies on the market, I've tried hard to avoid processed foods. Generally I've become a big fan of knowing exactly what I consume. I'm still learning which brands to use and which to avoid, but since I'm not going to buy a farm where I can raise my own livestock and grow all of my own products, I have to buy from someone!

The other day I was craving candy. That doesn't happen very often, but I thought I'd make a little something to satisfy my sweet tooth. This tasty treat also happens to be vegan, casein-free, gluten-free and pretty darn satisfying.

Simple Chocolate Goodness


With a wonderfully gooey almond center


Ingredients:

Chocolate chips
Almond butter

Yes, it's that simple. But, the type of chocolate and almond butter you use will very much change the outcome. The chocolate chips I used were semi-sweet, but they have quite a rich, dark flavor. I used Chocolate Dream which fit the allergen-free profile.

As for almond butter, I used salt-free, crunchy Roasted Almond Butter Sounds boring, I know, but the roasting and the crunch makes it just right.

I dare you to eat just one.

How it's done:

If you are a normal human that doesn't have a bunch of gadgets in your kitchen, take a metal mixing bowl and set it on top of a sauce pan with water in it. Take care not to get any water in the chocolate! You won't like the result. Turn the heat no higher than medium low to keep the water just at a simmer. Pour chocolate chips into the top bowl and stir until melted. At this point, if you're feeling feisty, feel free to add in anything that sounds fun into your chocolate: butter, a bit of vanilla, heck, crumbled up bacon. Turn off stove.


Now, spoon the bottom layer of chocolate into baking cups. Muffin-size cups will give you Reese's size candies. Mini cups are fun and less guilt-inducing. It's easiest if the papers are set in a muffin tin... I just didn't have one handy.


Give the pan a little tap or two on the counter to even out the chocolate. Then stick it in the freezer for a minute or so so it hardens. If you can't find a place balanced on your frozen pizzas, you can put it in the fridge... it just might take a bit longer.

If plain almond butter doesn't float your boat, now's the time to add mix-ins. A dash of sugar and salt, or some cinnamon, maybe some dried cherries...

After removing the chocolate from the cold, spoon a half teaspoon or more into the middle of the chocolate cups, taking care not to smudge it on the edges, lest you have leaky cups!

Cover the almond butter with the still-warm melted chocolate. Put the finished product back in the refrigerator (if you can stand it!), and after it's set up, you're in business!

EDIT: I just found out Maranatha is giving out nut butter: http://simplysavor.com/who-wants-4-free-jars-of-maranatha-nut-butter/#respond Excellent!

Enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Music Heals

A couple of years ago, I got sick. I don't mean the flu or a cold, but really ill: too week to lift my hand to mouth to feed myself serious medical condition type of sick. I'll tell my story later, but turns out I was poisoning myself by eating gluten, and my body had become so malnourished that I couldn't function. Yay Celiac Disease. It was tiring to breathe. Fortunately, that part of my autonomic nervous system was stubborn enough to keep me going.

I spent quite a few months as a walking zombie. It would be a long road to diagnosis, and I was fortunate my wonderful family and friends stepped in to help. It was pretty tough to get out of the house, but it was a necessity to keep my mind from imploding while my body tried to figure out what's up.

When I was able to gather the strength to dress and get out, I was driven straight to Chorus Rehearsal where I sat myself down in front of my singing sisters to listen. Live music. Live music made by the human voice. The a cappella harmony massaged my bones, muscles, and organs and for a few brief minutes, I forgot my pain.

Recorded music doesn't cut it. There's something about being in the room with the warmth and the smiles and the resonant *ping* that heals.

Our chorus has seen each other through births, deaths, adoptions, divorces, marriages, cancers, strokes, dementia, unemployment, and anything else that happens to one-hundred women. We've laughed and cried about it all. The friendship is great, sure, but you can only talk so much about your problems. Taking a deep breath and joining together in song is where the healing happens. Especially when you can share that music to help heal others.

Gluten-Free Parmesan Chicken

My brain works much better when my stomach is full. It seems that keeping it that way is a bit of a challenge, when I'm hungry I get a little distracted. I think I just saw a hummingbird. Warm winters here...

Where was I? I am not the type of person that can eat the same thing each day. While "variety is the spice of life" is a nice thought, I think it's more of a necessity than a spice. It keeps me from that robotic auto-pilot state where time passes and suddenly no one knows what year it is.

I get tired of chicken...but I really like this recipe. Especially with some nice fresh free-range organic chicken.

Gluten-free batters are touchy...it's hard to make them stick. The trick for this one is to leave it alone once you set it down, and don't cover it! Seriously, don't cover it... Unless you REALLY want to make gooey rice-paste clumps. You don't.


PARMESAN CHICKEN
6 boneless, skinless, chicken strips (tenders)
3/4 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup potato flour (starch)
1/2 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 egg
1 Tbs warm butter
1 Tbs milk
(Spice options: add garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, black pepper, or some cayenne if you like it spicy. It's also tasty with some fresh herbs like rosemary or basil)

Mix flours, cheese, and spices in a bowl.
Preheat oil (I like sunflower for this) in large fry pan to medium low heat.
Beat egg, butter, milk in separate bowl to form batter.
Dip each chicken strip into batter, roll in flour mix, lay carefully in heated pan.
Fry uncovered slowly on first side until golden brown, being careful not to overheat, about 10 minutes.
Lower heat, turn and fry on second side until brown, about 5 minutes

Tonight we ate this chicken with some brown rice and lightly sauteed tiny brussels sprouts. Squeeze a little lemon over the sprouts, add a dash of salt and pepper, and you're done. Fresh parmesan, too, if you love cheese. Have I mentioned I love cheese?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Corn-Free Chilaquiles

Let's start right in with the food issue. I'm on a violently strict gluten-free diet (Violently - I actually nearly assaulted a woman for shoving a brownie mere inches from my face last night...but I digress). A couple years back, Celiac Disease hit me like a giant grain freight train. When the choice is gluten-free or die a painful death from malnutrition, you choose gluten-free.

So, this is where my story took the road untraveled. If you would've looked into my fridge three years ago, you probably would've seen some leftover Chinese food, some corn tortillas and a bit of cheese. In the door, there was probably two or three bottles of questionable sauces with expiration dates from months or years ago. In fact, some of these products were likely left by old roommates. Roommates I'm embarrassed to say that left two years prior.

My life was a blur of eat, work, eat, play, eat, sing, eat. Now add on to each of those eats "at Rubios," "at Starbucks," "at Panda Express," "at Khyber Pass," and you have a much more complete picture.

Now, my quest is to get healthy. Food takes center stage, and the running has slowed to a crawl, forcing me to re-prioritize. No gluten (wheat, barley, rye or contaminated grains), and for me: no corn, minimal soy, and a journey to figure out which grade of gas my body runs best on.

My mission (whether or not I choose to accept it?), is to learn to create the foods I loved that fueled my creative and active life. I hope to share some of those successes and failures here.

Success #1. Corn-Free Chilaquiles


Mexican comfort food at it's finest. 

When I moved to San Diego, I thought these were pretty strange. But, when I had them cooked the right way, I was hooked. I've had some pretty bad ones... canned salsa dumped over stale tortilla chips. No thanks. The key to success here is the right kind of Chili powder. Don't use the kind you use to make Chili. No bueno! I'm talking about 100% ground Ancho Chili. My favorite is from The Spice House

When you do a web search for Chilaquiles, you find that the way to make it is take a tomato base and dump a bunch of spices in it. In other words, you need to experiment until it's the way you like it. Here's they way I like it. Adjust the spices to suit you. Measurements are approximate.

Since I'm the only one in my household that gets midnight cravings for chilaquiles and eggs, this serves one. Double as needed! I'll post the fast version, but it's also quite good with fresh onions and garlic. The beauty of this is the entire process can be done in less than ten minutes - HALF the time it used to take me to make a run to the local taco shop!

Ingredients:

One rice tortilla (I use Trader Joe's. Food for Life are also ok.)
Oil (I like sunflower or light olive oil)
1 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1/4 water

A generous sprinkle of ancho chili powder (about 1/4 tsp)
A slightly less generous sprinkle of cumin (about 1/8 tsp)
Onion powder (about 1/4 tsp)
Garlic powder (about 1/8 tsp)
Salt to taste

Toppings:
Grated cheese of choice (I used medium cheddar here)
Chopped fresh cilantro
Sour cream
One fried egg

Preheat oven to 450.
Cut the tortilla in half then into 2" strips with a knife or pizza cutter. Lightly coat with oil and salt and bake at 450 degrees for 5-6 minutes (I recommend baking on parchment paper on a cookie sheet). Do not over-cook. They should be slightly crispy, and they will continue to cook even out of the oven unless you take them off of the baking sheet. I like to set them on a paper towel to absorb some of the oil.

While tortilla chips are baking, add tomato paste, water and spices to a small pan, and heat on low, stirring frequently.
This is a perfect time to fry your egg if desired.

When chips are cooked, add them to the spiced tomato sauce and stir to coat. Remove from heat.

Garnish with cheese, cilantro, and sour cream. Serve with fried egg on top or to the side. For a more full meal, a side of pinto beans is perfect.

Enjoy!

My Weekly Sunday Night Impulse

Sunday nights have always been weird for me. I guess it's the last push of weekend before the work week starts. It's usually the time when I feel a sudden urge to buy and assemble a large piece of furniture, paint a room, write a symphony, take up a new career or learn to play the didgeridoo. Well, maybe not that last one.

These little urges are pretty much never actually attainable, and serve to keep me from sleeping at a regular hour (securing my constantly sleep deprived but creative state). But good inspiration comes at these times. Fortunately, I live in a city where there are enough 24 hour stores to feed my addiction. Raise your hand if you've made a shameful trip to BigBoxMart at 11:59 Sunday night to purchase four decks of cards, three hundred clothespins, and some new houseplants and potting soil. And while you were there decided you wanted to learn to draw, so purchased a oversized sketchpad and set of ten artists pencils. Yep.

Tonight, my impulse was to design a website for myself with which I would be able to create a lucrative career doing something I love that I may or may not have training in. That led to a very failed attempt at a free Google page when I realized I had not only no idea what I was doing, but lacked the patience to figure it out. Not that this should surprise me, mind you... but it always does.