Monday, August 30, 2010

A Picnic in the Park

Today I had the rare treat of having lunch with my friend Eliot. We decided earlier to enjoy the last few days of summer with a picnic in the park and I was going to come up with the menu.

Over the weekend, I was googling "gluten free picnic." I need to remind myself to think OUTSIDE of the box. A picnic for two twenty-somethings does not have to be a ham sandwich, pasta salad, and potato chips (those are great - don't get me wrong). I finally realized that a picnic can simply be eating your normal lunch foods...outside. I also have the luxury of working a block from Millennium Park, so I am able to heat my food in the microwave before leaving the office. So I was free to create whatever I wanted since Eliot is always willing to eat my creations.

I made my very first rice pilaf, using a recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens' New Cook Book. The recipe calls for onion, mushrooms, celery or green pepper, garlic, butter, water, rice, bouillon granules, pepper and bacon. Instead of the bouillon (since the only ones I have contain gluten AND lactose), I used some of my homemade chicken stock. I used green peppers and omitted the mushrooms (based on their absence in my fridge.) It was really delicious and I now feel like I can start exploring more with rice pilafs as another way to eat rice!

I topped the rice pilaf with Chicken in Lemon and Garlic - a recipe from my tapas cookbook. This is a favorite of ours - it is so easy to make! The first time we made it, I served as his sous chef and watched as he beautifully plated the dish. This time, I was executive chef and scooped the chicken over the rice pilaf in my ziplock containers.

These two dishes were really easy to make AND I was able to practice my knife skills - including chopping fresh parsley from my windowsill garden!

For dessert, I gave good ole Betty Crocker a second chance and tried her brownies (substituting my dairy-free butter). They were like traditional brownies in every way whatsoever with the exception of putting them in the pan. One of my tricks of making brownies is to plop the mix in the center of the brownie pan and shake the pan around until the mix evenly settles. True to their packaging (Betty Crocker's recipe writers deserve much praise for their explicit instructions), the batter was thick so my trick did not work. They looked like real brownies and tasted like real brownies! But they made me a little sick. I know it is not from cross contamination this time since I have had no problems while using my baking equipment the past few weeks. Their chocolate chips don't seem to contain any dairy; the only allergen listed is soy. If I eat the brownies slowly, my stomach can tolerate them much better (rather than the fresh-out-of-the-hot-pan large bites.) Perhaps their serving size of 16 per container should have been a clue? I cut my brownies into nine squares...was I sick from overeating? The brownies are still delicious nonetheless.

Once Eliot and I arrived at Millennium Park and I opened my picnic basket and spread out the picnic blanket, we surveyed our food. In addition to my rice pilaf with chicken and brownies, he brought Enjoy Life's soft baked double chocolate brownie cookies (double yum!) and a bottle of sparkling juice (we are always classy in our beverage choices). I also brought rice crackers and a can of pears...just in case we were super hungry. I have quickly become a fan of Enjoy Life's snack bars, but haven't tried the cookies yet (even though they are in my pantry.) They were super delicious and I love supporting a product that is super allergy friendly (free of the eight common allergens) with "no artificial anything!" labeled with their nutritional information! These were much tastier than any cookie I've had before - they were super rich and loaded with chocolate.

I truly love living in Chicago. For one hour, I was able to leave behind my office job in the hurried Loop and sit on the grass in a park eating delicious foods with my best friend with the sound check for a free concert playing in the background! Plus, I love having a friend who is willing to go to the store and survey all of the gluten and dairy free options they provide before making an informed (and tasty) choice!

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