Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tapas at Gitana

I've started playing up my Spanish food kick. Yesterday, I went to a Meetup Event with Windy City Celiacs to Gitana - a tapas restaurant in Lakeview. There is no separate gluten free menu - the NORMAL menu is super conveniently labeled with all the gluten free options with a simple (gf) and even (v) for vegetarian!!!! And gluten-free customers are in very good hands - Sous Chef Tiffany is gluten-free herself!

The other people at the table ordered a variety of dishes and were sharing them. Every single dish was so beautifully plated and the atmosphere took me back to memories of dining in Spain with my friends.

I went with:
Plato de Espárragos con Jamon
Fresh asparagus with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, with sherry vinaigrette

Every bite of my food was so full of flavor! (Sorry for the less than stellar photo - I have a hard time trying to sneakily photograph food with my camera's flash.) I had my plate made without the Machego cheese since I haven't had any sheep cheese since going dairy free. So far, I am lucky and am able to tolerate goat's cheese. There are some gluten and dairy intolerant people who can tolerate goat and sheep cheese. I'm going to have to try sheep's cheese soon so I can explore more of the menu at Gitana!)

Gitana is definetly a win for gluten free dining, cost-effective meals, and plenty of delicious options! This place is highly recommended!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Busy Cook's Paella

I'm a sucker for anything Spanish. I credit that with studying in Spain for a summer while in college and going on great culinary and cultural adventures with my friends (and even venturing in to Portugal)! When my mom first showed me Vigo Saffron Yellow Rice, I was sold. There's a flamenco dancer on the front - of COURSE I want to eat this! She said that she and my sister love it and it can easily stand on its own. Thankfully, the rice is gluten free (per other places on the web) and I'm super gluten sensetive and have been eating it no problem. And my mom is right - it IS super tasty!

But on a gluten free diet, one can only eat plain rice so many times before wanting some variety on the variety. And it is so hard to pack a lunch with "sides". Most of my food is easy to pack in a square ziplock container and heat at work for a minute or two in the microwave. One dish grains/meat/veggie meals are my speciality.

Here's my favorite way to cook the Vigo rice and have a super simplified paella for lunch:

Prepare the rice per the directions on the bag, substituting homemade chicken broth for the water for extra nutrients.
In a large pan, heat Spanish olive oil (thank you, Trader Joe's!) and saute three cloves of minced garlic and one thinly sliced onion. Cook until the onion is tender.
Add the fully cooked rice, frozen peas, and small pieces of already chicken (from the fridge). Cook for a few minutes on medium heat until the peas and chicken are warm.
Serve and enjoy su comida deliciosa.

(And I promise, I'll have a real paella dish one day this winter! I have some saffron on my counter I have been eying for far too long.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nick's Pizza & Pub: Gluten Free Pizza

Being gluten and lactose free in a big city like Chicago is great - I can easily find restaurants that can create something delicious for me. And if they can't there is always another restaurant across the street that would love my business. But my family is from the suburbs. And when I go home, it is hard to think of where we can go where my dietary needs can be met in one stop, rather than driving around town. When I first went gluten free, my mom excitedly called me to tell me that the local newspaper had an article about how Nick's Pizza & Pub (locations in Elgin and Crystal Lake) had gluten free pizza.

Clearly, I had to try this.

My dad was going to pick up the pizza and I don't think he has had to order gluten and dairy free for me before this pizza. He's seen me gluten-sick plenty of times, but we had not gone out to eat since my dietary change. There was a little bit of panic because I get excited about things being gluten free and totally forget about the dairy free portion of my diet. A call to Nick's earlier in the week confirmed that their crust was also dairy free. So all I had to do was tell my dad what pizza to order - no cheese - and we were good. When we went to pick up the pizza, panic really set in: I saw a lot of people working with pizza dough and using large knives to cut the pizza into slices. I confirmed with our cashier that my pizza was gluten-free and nervously asked about the knife they used to cut it. The cashier said they have a special knife they use for the gluten free pizzas and the pizzas are even cooked in their own tin. Cross contamination fears minimized!

I had the Margherita Pizza - sans mozzarella cheese. The crust was a delicious thin crust with a nice crunch and the olive oil made it super tasty. And it was a truly beautiful pizza with large pieces of basil and slices of tomato for extra flavor. This pizza is one to keep in my back pocket when I go home!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dear Betty

Dear Betty Crocker,

I'm sorry it has come to this. We're breaking up. You disappointed me once before. I thought we could work things out. I tried two of the recipes on your website. This isn't the way baked goods should taste. The cookie mix tastes like it has dried mashed potato flakes. And the cake mix? It felt awfully sandy. I've read online reviews so I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I gave you two more chances. Here's how you stacked up:

This recipe looked promising. The comments encouraged me to try adding an extra egg because "dry and crumbly" are not words I like to describe my desserts. When they came out of the oven and I tried to flip the cookie out of the pan, the cookie smushed together. Is that my fault for wanting to make up for your shortcomings with the extra egg? I had about a tablespoon worth of the cookie bar before deciding it was gross and dumped it in the trash.

You were better with this recipe - a cake mix cookie. The flour mix felt like sand between my fingers. Thankfully, the cookies were rolled in sugar so it beautifully masked the texture. This cookie I brought to work and shared with my co-workers. But the cookies didn't taste that good. I expected more from you.

When I first went gluten free, I thought I needed you - the overpriced box mixes. The best things I made that were gluten and dairy free were made from scratch. The colorful gluten-free boxes are going to be used and not replaced in my pantry.

Sorry it didn't work out. I'm mixing my own flour from now on.

All the best,



I've been quiet here because I've got sick.

Two years ago, I always made 2-3 pounds of meatballs at a time. They were one of the few things I knew how to make and they are one of the easiest things to freeze and defrost. I'm still in the habit of making meatballs like this. I'm a busy girl and being gluten and lactose intolerant, I need the convenience of already cooked food in the freezer. After making the two pounds of meatballs and eating three with gluten-free noodles, dairy-free Teeze, and organic cherry tomatoes, I started to feel sick. Not wanting two pounds of meatballs to go to waste (because surely I did not glutenize myself), I figured I would have some more meatballs with lunch the next day.

Total Crash.

I felt nauseous, had chest, stomach, and abdominal issues and felt utterly exhausted. Having meatballs for dinner and lunch the next day brought my body to a grinding halt. It took me five days to recover. And on day five, I had a migraine. The second one since going gluten free (compare that to the four to eight migraines I had a month on average the past two years). I lost two pounds and I could feel my body was weak (maybe because part of my gluten reactions mean I have NO appetite so eat about a third of what I normally do). And then I got the common cold. I made chicken broth that became a simple chicken and rice soup (I made the rice with broth rather than water). I have been drinking an insane amount of juice and water and I even ate an entire box of gluten free crackers in one sitting. I'm finally starting to feel better now.

But what did me in? I used an onion spice mixture that was made in the same facility as wheat. Every other ingredient had been tried and tested in my gluten free kitchen. I even made chili with the ground beef with no gluten reactions. Moral of the story? I need to be more careful with "same facility as" products. I am extremely sensitive. I have had great luck when going out to eat at restaurants with my friends. It is rather embarrassing to get sick in my own kitchen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Milkshakes, Cookies, and The Social Network Butterfly

Blogs are fun.

I started mine as a way to encourage and challenge myself when I knew I would need to restrict my diet. It was also a subtle a way to also show my family and some friends that I could throw together some halfway decent meals and I was trying to eat properly. In the process of blogging, I grew super excited about eating and creating meals. Concepts like plating that Eliot talked about grew to be commonplace and my camera is almost always in the kitchen. I'm excited to try new recipes and share them with the Internet. And I am always thrilled to see so many hits on my blog from around the world!

One of my facebook friends started a blog with the ultimate social network challenge: have a drink with all 500+ of her friends in a year. Brigitte is documenting her drinks and meetings on The Social Network Butterfly. I think this is such a neat concept and a way to connect with people in person in our digital era! Her guidelines including consuming at least one drink. Drinks can include but are not limited to adult beverages, coffee, tea, soda, milkshakes, etc. Adult beverages and coffee are so traditional. If a gluten and dairy free blogger is going to have a drink with The Social Network Butterfly, clearly it is going to be a milkshake. With cookies. So Brigitte and I caught up and geeked out over foods, blogs, and life in general while eating these tasty creations!

The Cookies
The amazing chewy chocolate chunk cookies from Cooking for Isaiah

The "Milkshake" (vegan and allergen friendly)
Makes 2 "Milkshakes" in wine goblets
1 banana
1-2 cups chocolate rice milk (I used Rice Dream Chocolate Drink)
4-6 scoops of chocolate rice ice cream (I used Rice Dream Cocoa Marble Fudge non-dairy dessert)
Put all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth. Pour in your fanciest wine goblets.
Break the cookies into small pieces. Put in shake. Serve with a plate of cookies.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pizza with Teese

During my recent trip to the Whole Foods Amusement Park (as my friends and I affectionately call the Whole Foods mega-store in Lincoln Park), I found Teese - vegan cheese. It is a dairy and gluten free vegan version of mozzarella cheese. The package claims it is great to shred on to your pizza. Soft goat cheese crumbles, so I have just been putting clumps of cheese on my pizza. It seemed a little foreign to me to use my cheese shredder to add freshly grated cheese to pizza, like the rest of the world does. I was giddy with excitement when I saw the perfect pieces of mozzarella cheese gracefully fall onto my pizza. I think it tasted like normal cheese, but then again, it has been over two years since I last had mozzarella...

For my dough, I used Hodgson Mill's box version again. I cheated and opened a can of pizza sauce and after adding Teese, I sprinkled some sundried tomatoes on top. I need to get more creative with my pizza toppings, but sundried tomatoes are one of my current favorite foods.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Battle of the Breads and PB&J

During the Gluten Intolerance Group meeting on Thursday (first Thursday of the month at the South Loop Whole Foods at 7pm), we did a battle of the breads! This was a fantastic event for gluten-free newbies like myself (I'm almost seven months off gluten) to try a bunch of breads...for FREE! We tried Rudi's, Udi's, and Katz's packaged breads. As a special treat, Rose from Rose's Wheat Free Bakery (where Eliot and I went in the fall) brought three of her breads...and made additional loaves for us on site! The owner of Cassava, a new cafe in Lakeview, made some fresh cheese and chocolate rolls on site as well! (Their rolls contain dairy, but they do have some dairy and gluten free options at their cafe. Eliot loves the cassava rolls - trust him and try them if you can!) I love bread - pita pockets, crunchy French bread, and herbed dinner rolls easily make my most missed gluten foods list. It was SO great to have so much bread again. I sampled bites of all the different slices. And when Rose's sandwich bread came out of the oven and I had a slice, I was in heaven. NOTHING beats good, warm, fresh bread. There was some Earth Balance (vegan "butter") so I tried that on my bread for the first time. When we were leaving with our bags of leftover bread (it was honestly a lot of bread), Rose offered us the extra bread to take home. You don't need to ask me twice.

When I got home, I realized that I needed to make a sandwich with that bread that will do its deliciousness justice. And the sandwich I wanted was pb&j. I haven't had a pb&j in years. In college, I had a meal plan so rarely made myself food outside of Ramen in my hot pot on the floor. After college, buying bread was often a waste since I could never finish the whole loaf by myself and I thought freezing bread was weird (I have since learned the errors of my ways and almost all of my gf breads have been frozen and defrosted with great results.) I updated my facebook status and mentioned I had so much gf bread and I was kind of wishing I could make a pb&j but was lacking the j. Last night, one of my friends came to the rescue with a Christmas present! She made her own jelly and marmalade this year and gave me and Eliot four different kinds. (She is awesome - she was double checking the ingredients with me earlier in the winter to make sure they were gluten free!!!) I was so grateful and made a pb&j with thick slices of Rose's bread, generous slabs of peanut butter, and wonderful homemade jelly. It was an amazing sandwich - better than any pb&j I had as a kid!

Marigold Restaurant: Indian Food

Earlier this week, one of my friends suggested that we get together for Indian cuisine. There were going to be five of us – two vegetarian, two gluten free, and one with no dietary limitations. I started googling and reading yelp reviews of a few different places and then found Marigold Restaurant in Uptown on Broadway. Their menu is available online so I was able to read through it and see what we could eat. There are plenty of choices that were naturally gluten free. I made reservations and let the hostess know that in our party of five, one had a gluten and dairy intolerance and another could not eat gluten or tree nuts. The hostess was extremely helpful on the phone and said that it was no problem and they could accommodate us. When we arrived, I reminded them that two of us were gluten free and the hostess immediately responded with the other two food intolerances/allergies! Major points there! And of course, our waitress has a roommate who has Celiac disease (cue “It’s a Small World After All”) so Eliot and I were in very good hands. The waitress pointed out what dishes we could have and which ones could be modified for us. When dining out, I try to order things I won’t necessarily cook for myself. So I ordered the Mussels Molee – “prince edward island mussels steamed in an aromatic, turmeric-infused coconut milk broth”. With the waitress’s suggestion, I also ordered a side of their basmati rice. I also splurged and had an amazing glass of white wine: Yealand Savignon Blan from New Zealand! Everything was absolutely delicious. Until I went dairy-free, I never realized how much I love white sauces. The coconut milk sauce was very rich and creamy. And my thoughts on the mussels? I was poking around the empty mussel shells when Eliot asked what I was doing. “I think there’s one more!” They were really tasty. I only tried mussels once before and they were not nearly as tender as the ones at Marigold. It was a great time dining out with my friends! As always, it is very nice to be able to relax with friends over a meal and know that everyone can have a delicious dish or two! (Just don’t try to pass the Naan!) If you are gluten free, you MUST visit Marigold!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fish #2

I’m slowly but surely getting the hang of cooking fish (which is impressive because a year ago, I refused to eat any type of fish). Previously, my cooking was limited to the oven or watching Eliot cook it. This time around, I cooked tilapia on the stovetop with great success! I vaguely followed these instructions from Food Network, substituting rice flour and dairy free butter. And I was fresh out of green beans and cherry tomatoes (okay, who am I kidding – it is winter in Chicago – my fresh vegetable selection is small), I made tapioca starch noodles. Cooking the tilapia this way was a breeze! Essentially all that needs to happen is mix together rice flour, spices, salt and pepper than dredge the fix and cook in a (dairy free) buttered skillet for a few minutes! Cooking fish is no longer scary!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bacon Soup and Chocolate Mousse Pie blog doesn't lie. My last entry talking about what 2011 will bring ended with: And if Eliot has any influence, more bacon.

First meal we cooked together in 2011? Parsnip and potato soup with bacon. And a side of bacon.

Bring on the new year!!!

I think the only way to ever share an Eliot recipe will be if I write down EVERYTHING the boy grabs and hold out measuring cups and spoons before the ingredient makes it into the pot or pan. So at minimum, this soup had five parsnips, three carrots, a few potatoes, some celery, 4 cups of my homemade turkey stock, an onion, kosher salt, garlic cloves, freshly picked parsley, sherry, and some random spices he found, cooked in a stock pot, combined with an immersion blender, and topped with bacon. With a little dish of bacon on the side.

Eliot cooks. I bake. He can look at recipes and then walk away and make magic happen in the kitchen. Me? I follow recipes exactly and expect them to turn out perfectly since someone already figured out the science behind making these dishes.

And what happens when I don't follow recipes exactly? I fail and end up throwing out a dozen eggs. When Eliot and I each got our own copies of Cooking for Isiah, we decided that with every promotion he gets, I will bake him a dessert to celebrate. His first promotion was the ever simple chocolate cake. With every promotion, the desserts will get more complicated as I also develop into a better cook and baker. I made some smart decisions by at least skimming the pre-chosen recipe earlier in the week, so I knew I would need to make cookies for the crust and at least two double boilers or heat safe bowls. I figured I could beat the system and use the same bowl twice. And I failed to correctly save my egg yolks the first time around. So this recipe that needed six eggs, actually used a total of 19 (one was for coating the cookie crust) under my careless eye. ALWAYS READ ALL THE DIRECTIONS FIRST. Eliot saved the day when he came with two glass bowls and I was finally able to follow the directions properly and make something wonderful in the kitchen. Just over three hours later, the chocolate mousse cloud pie with a chocolate cookie crust came out of the refrigerator and I used my microplane to add some dark chocolate to the top. Yum! I'm (slowly) getting the hang of making mousse desserts since those are popular among the dairy free crowds. I am looking forward to the day, however, when I can don't have to hold my electric mixer for almost ten minutes as my eggs are beat. When can I get a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer in my kitchen? Patience is a virtue I don't have time to wait for - which can be problematic at times in the kitchen. Meanwhile, I'm going to keep learning from my mistakes and continue to grow as a cook. And eat LOTS of chocolate!