Sunday, November 28, 2010

My First Gluten and Dairy Free Thanksgiving

During the last family party with my mom’s side of the family, I was at my lowest of lows. My mom practically had to force me to find a dairy-free cookie recipe so I could have a dessert at the party and it took me close to an hour to decide on chocolate crinkle cookies. When making a dairy free pasta salad, I could care less what vegetables she put in it. I wanted nothing more than to lie down and not eat or move. Fast forward six months to my first gluten and dairy free Thanksgiving. (By myself with no parental encouragement) I revised a cookie recipe to be gluten and dairy free, I made an appetizer of meatballs, I baked some corn bread to then dry out for stuffing and finished things with a gluten, dairy, tree nut and soy free pumpkin pie. Wow. I have a lot to be thankful for!

My family is great – my aunt who hosted Thanksgiving went out of her way to make sure I had plenty of dairy and gluten free options available. After potatoes were done cooking, they were separated into two containers: mine had rice milk, olive oil and chives while the others were traditional milk and butter. The gravy was made with my gluten free flour mixture. Vegetables were grilled on aluminum foil. There were even two turkeys – one with stuffing and one without. I even asked people to wash their hands before they were handling food. We did everything right.

But I still got sick.

I started having a reaction while I was almost done eating my dinner. By the time we were ready for dessert, there was no mistaking it: I was glutenized. The girl who was happily chopping potatoes only a few hours early and was so full of life disappeared within minutes. My reaction was small, but I visibly looked pale and disoriented and felt horrible. I am fairly certain that something I ate was cross-contaminated by the tiniest speck of gluten. It is a risk that I am going to be taking when foods are prepared outside the comforts of my gluten free kitchen and many hands were involved in the food creation. It is embarrassing to be sick in front of the people who spent so much effort into making sure I would be safe. I am thankful to have a family who loves me so much that will go out of their way to make sure there is always food for me at the table.

Oh, and for my pie, I totally cheated. Libby’s pumpkin pie mix is clearly labeled gluten free. I successfully substituted evaporated milk for coconut milk. I used the Gluten Free Pantry’s pie crust mix (but rolled the crust out a little too thick…) with a vegetable oil spread instead of butter. Success!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chicken Quinoa with Bell Peppers

Chicken Quinoa with Bell Peppers

1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth (or the amount given on the quinoa instructions)

1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 or 4 bell peppers (of any colors), thinly sliced
4 chicken thighs
Kosher salt

Rinse and drain the quinoa. Prepare the quinoa as directed on the packaging, substituting chicken broth instead of water.

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and onion. Cook until the garlic is aromatic Рdo not burn! Add Kosher salt and the chicken thighs and saut̩ for a few minutes. When the chicken is about 4-5 minutes away from being fully cooked, add the bell peppers and saut̩ until the chicken is cooked and the bell peppers are limp. If the chicken is cooked and the peppers are still firm, you can reduce the heat to simmer and cover the skillet for a few minutes.

Add the cooked quinoa and toss all the ingredients together. Add Kosher salt to taste. Serve from the skillet.

Some helpful hints:

  • For this recipe, mise en place is SUPER important! This literally means to have everything in place before you start. Mince your garlic and slice your onions and bell peppers before you turn that stove on! No sense in ruining your dish because you were busy trying to cut a bell pepper while your chicken was burning!
  • If you are using chicken broth instead of water with the quinoa (I highly recommend doing so – more nutrients and flavor!!!) make sure it is gluten free. Or better yet? Make your own stock, measure it out in one or two cup increments and freeze it! I have ziplock containers full of one and two cups of my stock! When I have a recipe that calls for it, I just take out my large chicken ice cube and heat it up in a pot!
  • Okay, you CAN cheat to the first helpful hint I said and start preparing your quinoa before you take your knife out. The reason for cheating is because the quinoa is very hands off in the preparation. Just be sure to set a timer so you don’t forget about it!
  • Kosher salt is your friend. Get in the habit of cooking with it – you’ll notice all the flavors really shine when it is used.
  • Don’t have quinoa? Try using rice.
  • A fantastic garnish for this dish finely chopped flat leaf parsley.

And here are instructions on how to slice a bell pepper:

Slice the bottom off the pepper.

Stand the pepper up and cut off the sides, being careful to work WITH the curve of the pepper and not cut into the seeds.

Repeat until the pepper is only the core. Discard the core.

Slice the pepper sides into even strips.

Pepper slices.

Lastly, slice the bottom of the pepper, cut side down. The trick is to arch your knife and cut on diagonals until you reach the center (and cut straight down) and then resume cutting on a diagonal. This part closely resembles cutting an onion.

All done! The above recipe calls for three to four bell peppers, so it is fantastic for practicing your new skills!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Breakfast for Dinner

One of the gluten-free books I read mentioned that there is nothing wrong with having a bowl of cereal or other breakfast items for dinner. So why not? Eliot and I thought it was perfect for a quick meal (we were both too hungry to cook much else) for our Friday night dinner. I'll be honest: he did all the cutting, cooking, and plating. I just did the dishes.

Breakfast for dinner was orange juice, a grapefruit, and hash browns made with onions and potatoes with four sunny-side up eggs carefully plated on top before being garnished with bacon and celery. Don't worry - there was more bacon on the side! We have a bacon problem... Even with splurging for some higher end bacon, this was a really inexpensive meal! Not to mention great tasting!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Gluten Free Kitchen

What does a gluten free kitchen look like? Come on a tour of my studio apartment's kitchen! It has a lot of the same types of items that a traditional cook and baker would have.

DISCLAIMER: all products shown in the pictures are gluten and dairy free based on my reading of their labels. Sometimes I screw up and purchase something with an offending ingredient and then pay the price if I don't triple check first (and get really upset with myself.)

Notice how the freezer is pretty packed with zip-lock containers. My biggest trick is to cook three or four portions of a meal, eat one, have one or two for lunch or dinner that week, and freeze the remainder. I defrost the container in the refrigerator the night before and have a ready-made delicious meal waiting for me! I have also recently discovered Van's Wheat Free Gluten Free waffles and am addicted.

I'm a giant bibliophile. My book selection varies by the month since I read a lot of library books! Harold Washington library is my friend!!! Their gluten-free cookbook selection is pretty awesome. My three most used gluten free cookbooks are Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy Delicious Meals by Silvana Nardone, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern, and You Won't Believe It's Gluten-Free!: 500 Delicious, Foolproof Recipes for Healthy Living by Roben Ryberg. My most used traditional cookbooks are Better Home and Gardens New Cookbook, Betty Crocker Cookbook, and Cooking: A Common Sense Guide.

I finally cracked and bought a measuring scale. I love it! It opens the door to so many gf recipes which are weight-based.

The first picture demonstrates JUST how much of a baker I am! You'll notice the large amounts of gf pasta in the last picture. When it is on sale, I tend to stock up! No sense in spending over $3 a box on a package if I don't have to!

I love my little spice section next to my stove!

And now for The Toys. I have a George Foreman grill, a blender, rice cooker, slower cooker, 3 cup Cuisinart, a microwave and a spinning spice rack (not pictured: hand mixer). The glass containers are filled with gluten-free flours. I use the mixture from Cooking for Isaiah and pre-mixed her chocolate cake's dry ingredients. In the second picture, I have my cookbook holder, lunch box (super important!!!) and TV for watching Food Network. I recently hung a bulletin board in my kitchen and love it! I have pictures of my failed cookies as well as my successful cookies to remind me that it CAN get better and I shouldn't give up.

And it isn't quite the kitchen, but I do have an herb garden growing on my windowsill. I started with a pot full of parsley and have since expanded to include a large planter with basil, (more) parsley, oregano, tarragon, chives. Rosemary and cilantro are currently growing in their own small containers as well.

You'll notice something important lacking from my kitchen: a dishwasher. It drives me nuts most days because I do so much cooking and baking that I generate a LOT of dishes while creating in the kitchen!! There are a few different roads one can travel when living with a food intolerance (or two or three): I choose the one where I live my life fully and have a playful sense of adventure in my kitchen. My kitchen is my favorite place to be! (But I still wish I have a dishwasher...)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Countdown to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is all about the food. Turkey, gravy, bread, stuffing, mashed potatoes, another serving of stuffing, cakes, pies! Talk about a gluten overload. Last year, I was completely dairy free at Thanksgiving – no more butter. Potatoes were portioned out for me as soon as they were done cooking. I had a little bowl set aside so we could add my butter substitute to them before the potatoes were covered with real butter and milk and turned into mashed potatoes for the rest of my family.

This year, we are having Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house and I helped choose some gluten and dairy free recipes or alternatives so there is more food that is safe for me to eat. Don't worry - I'm offering my culinary skills and abilities as well!! After the potatoes are done cooking this year, some will be go the traditional route while others are going to be mashed with rice milk and olive oil and garnished with the chives that just regrew in my herb garden. I’m making the cornbread and stuffing from Cooking for Isaiah before Thanksgiving to bring. Our gravy will be gluten-free. And for dessert? My mom is bringing a flourless chocolate cake and I’ll be reprising my sweet potato cookies. And I’m trying my hand at pumpkin pie. Since I’m splitting it with Eliot, I’m under the challenge of a gluten, dairy, tree nut, and soy free pie. Even harder? I am embarrassed to admit that I have never even tasted pumpkin pie before so I will not have anything with which to compare it. A bittersweet blessing? I was talking with Eliot about the recipes I was finding for our pie while riding the eL. Once we were in Jewel, he said he was going to look in the baking aisle. I was perplexed because he doesn’t bake – that’s my role in the kitchen. I found some gf pasta and returned to the aisle to find him reading cans of pumpkin pie mix. Libby’s Easy Pumpkin Pie Mix is clearly labeled as gluten free! Just add eggs and evaporated milk. Evaporated milk has been my downfall – I am not familiar with 1:1 substitutions like I am with butter, milk, and ice cream. I quickly searched on my phone and found that I can use coconut milk instead. If I am making bread, cookies, stuffing, and a small appetizer (to be determined) from scratch, I can use a gf pie mix and canned pumpkin mix as a cop out, right?

Tune in after the big day to see how this all turns out! Now to just fine tune my shopping list and make sure my camera is fully charged…

(Yes, the above pictured stuffing was made a month or two ago just to make sure that it WILL turn out. Stuffing is one of my favorite parts of the meal!!!)

Cooking with Jamie Oliver

I have a major food crush on Jamie Oliver. While at my sickest, I watched Jamie Olive’s Food Revolution on my laptop in bed on the weekends. He keeps talking about how easy it is to eat healthy and cook meals yourself with fresh ingredients and used stir-fry as a gateway into helping ordinary people make some pretty amazing dishes. One night, I made myself a stir-fry and felt a little better. (Possibly because the stir-fry only had a trace amount of gluten-filled soy sauce compared to my normal dinners of pasta…) On one of my most recent adventures through the cookbook stacks at Harold Washington library, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution book caught my eye and I fell in love a little more. The book’s premise of teaching people to cook and pass on the skills and recipes is amazing.

For our Friday night dinner, Eliot and I made Jamie’s Parsnip and Ginger Soup and Super-Quick Salmon Stir-Fry. Both dishes were full of flavor and really highlighted the fresh vegetables we bought from Whole Foods. As a bonus recipe, Eliot fried the salmon skin as an appetizer as we waited for the soup to finish cooking. With the stir-fry, the smells and flavors kept changing with each new ingredient addition - what an alive dish!

Here are the foods in their before and after state!

Salmon skin

Parsnip and Ginger Soup

Super-Quick Salmon Stir-Fry

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I'm hungry.

After being glutenized a month ago from oats used as a filler in a hamburger, I was sick for three days and lost about two pounds. And then I never bounced back with the weight or the appetite. I lost four pounds over probably a teaspoon worth of oats. Yesterday afternoon, it was like a light switch was flipped on and I was being blinded from the intensity. I was starving! My daily food intake over doubled and instead of eating two or three times a day, I began eating about 6 or 7 times. Today, I had Honey Nut Chex cereal, leftover frozen sweet potato shepherd's pie, an energy bar, a bowl of (corn) noodles, half a pint of sorbet, and am now snacking on a bowl of potato chips. Any other day? Choose two or three of those items and that's it. I had to remind myself to eat. Today, I had the food I brought for dinner at 3pm. Yesterday, by the time I got home I was starving again, so made myself corn pasta. The problem with gf noodles is they take FOREVER to cook. And then I started getting hungry. I chopped an onion at my fastest ever speed (the cut sizes probably left something to be desired) and threw them in a pan of oil and sauteed them. I diced a tomato and mixed that together with the noodles that just finished cooking. I only had one shot of taking a picture of this meal: my camera was in one hand and the fork in the other. I have never enjoyed a meal so much! My body found its voice again and was demanding to be fed!

Back in February, Eliot drew me this picture. It had a simple purpose: remind me to eat. When on gluten, I was never hungry. I literally had to remember to eat. (And he thought taping a picture of an orange creature would help me - it did - I remembered but didn't feel like going through the motions of eating.) There were days when I only had one meal because I completly forgot about eating. When I first went off gluten and my appetite came back, it was such a wonderful feeling! There's a saying to never trust a skinny cook. Well, I'm one skinny cook who can make some pretty awesome food. But without an appetite, I am not enjoying my food past the first two bites. Now every flavor and bite sings to me and my body feels more alive than ever.

Plus, it never hurts to regain those lost pounds! ;-)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Michelle’s Bruschetta Chicken Thighs

Note: these measurements are JUST ENOUGH to coat three chicken thighs with very little waste. You may need to modify the measurements and cooking time based on the size of your chicken.

3 chicken thighs
¼ cup white rice flour
1 egg
½ heaping cup bread crumbs (I used panko style gf bread crumbs from kinnikinnick foods)
2 minced garlic cloves
1 heaping teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
salt and ground pepper to taste

½ can diced tomatoes
Soft goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line an 8x8 pan with aluminum foil.

Set up shallow bowls for dredging. Add the rice flour in the first bowl, a whisked egg in the second, and mix together the parsley, garlic, salt and pepper for the last bowl.

Generously coat the chicken in the flour. Then cover in the egg wash. Then coat with the bread crumb mixture.

Place in pan.

Cook for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven. Add ½ can diced tomatoes and soft goat cheese on top. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until chicken is done.

A great green side with this dish is steamed broccoli tossed with olive oil and lemon juice. Easy AND delicious!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I’m fairly certain I was accidentally glutenized (super trace amounts) earlier this week. I haven’t been feeling right, some of my classic symptoms were appearing and then today I became an emotional mess. One minute I want to scream and be angry at the world and the next I want to bawl and be held (this is a major improvement from when I was on gluten – then I only wanted to do the later.) I had a bad day at work because of this, so I treated myself to steak tacos at Chipotle and then after work went to the newly rebuilt Dominick’s. Earlier in the day, I was promising myself some delicious overpriced gluten-free item. And then I realized I didn’t want a brownie or (non dairy) ice cream: I wanted real food. And bacon.

Once in the store, I realized I did not have my casein and gluten free shopping guide. The panic started to set in (see above for further description of “hot (emotional) mess.” But then I realized that I could just call Safeway (the Dominick’s brand) because their number is saved in my cell phone. I am happy to report that their Thick Sliced Hickory Smoked Bacon IS gluten free. (And every time I call, I’m going to ask if their products could be labeled gluten free in the future. The customer service representative took down my “formal complaint” and submitted my request. The more people who do this, the better!)

After acquiring the B, L, and the T for my sandwich, I went in search for overpriced gluten-free bread. I had very little luck – there was only one brand of sandwich bread and I was craving a roll. In the end, I went back to the clearly labeled gluten free yellow corn tortillas. My brilliant idea for a sandwich was not as I envisioned. But there was bacon so it was still tasty. My time in the grocery store finding the bacon and bread was greater than the time it took me to prepare my delicious dinner! Next time I have a craving for a BLT, I'm going to make sure to have rolls in the freezer - or make them myself! The sandwich looks a little funny when the tomatoes are thicker than the bread...the lettuce too for that matter...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Apple Muffins

I believe Baking Rule 1 is to always follow the directions. And if you want to deviate from the recipe, try it as written first. Sometimes I can be fantastic with following directions to the letter. Other times, I realize I already changed the rules, so to heck with it: let’s make a lot of substitutions!

I had Gluten-Free Pantry’s Muffin and Scone Mix. I had a few apples. There was apple juice in the fridge. See where I’m going? The muffins call for butter, eggs, vanilla and milk. The box is smart enough to realize that there are a growing number of people who are also lactose free, so they suggest vegetable oil and fruit juice. I’m still remaining faithful to Crystal Farm’s Dairy Free 70% Vegetable Spread. It is an easy one-for-one substitution, even though I’m horrible at letting my butter soften enough before using. I substituted apple juice for the milk (a trick I will be using again in the future, I’m sure!) and stirred. Then the fun part: I diced an apple and added that to the mixture. The recipe suggests dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips or other ingredients. How does this fresh fruit change things?

It makes one delicious muffin! The apples only had the slightest crunch; overall they were very tender and the muffin was very moist. Should I have played by the rules and learned how a gluten free muffin is supposed to taste first? Probably. But it is autumn and I have apples in the house that are begging to be eaten! It is a rather silly observation, but I think these muffins taste like fall.


One of my church friends recently went gluten free and she posted a picture on Facebook of her polenta dinner. It was something that I have been meaning to try and since it was on sale at Whole Foods, I figured now is as good time as any. I slightly deviated from my friend’s recipe (my version is below) and made this delicious dinner with basil and garlic polenta!

Slice polenta about ½” thick. In a pan with a little bit of olive oil, cook the polenta on medium-high heat, about 4-5 minutes per side. In a separate pan, heat the canned diced tomatoes. Plate the polenta and add the diced tomatoes on top. Season with fresh chopped basil, ground pepper, and Kosher salt.

Tasty AND easy!