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.


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
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.


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


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: Excellent!


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'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.

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!


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

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.


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.