Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chocolate Mousse

When I went dairy free for health reasons, I started cutting out desserts. My intake easily dropped by half. And then when gluten free was added to the mix, I became too depressed to even want dessert! Over five dollars for a box of gluten free dairy free cookies? Or box mix for the same price? Gone are the days of finding packaged dessert items for under a dollar. I've heard that people on a gluten free diet easily spend three times as much as their wheat consuming counterparts. Whether the number is accurate or not, what remains true is that finding specialty items that are gluten free and not manufactured in the same facility as wheat gets pretty pricey pretty fast.

Even though I've been dairy free for twice as long as gluten free, I never really exploited the dairy-alternatives out there beyond rice milk ice cream and soy dream ice cream (lovingly dubbed "fake ice cream" in my house). When I went gluten free, I knew I needed to get creative and get back in the kitchen.

One of the joys of participating in this plant-strong Engine-2 based diet is that it is vegan. The emphasis is on plant-strong rather than vegan so people are running out to the stores to buy their fruits and veggies rather than the processed meat-alternatives. But for me, I take extra delight in vegan because it means dairy-free. I get to relax my guard for wondering if butter or a tablespoon of cow's milk could be in a dish or racking my brain trying to figure out a replacement for dairy in a recipe, only to give up before I finish reading the ingredient list.

My vegetarian friend opened the door to exploring vegan options for desserts last year when I tried vegan fudge for the first time. If I want a creamy dessert, it doesn't need to be cow's milk based - it is easy to explore other ingredients like tofu! Yes, tofu in dessert. It is what made the fudge so good, too!

One of the recipes I really liked from the Engine 2 book is the chocolate mousse. The ingredients are simple: tofu, cocoa powder, vanilla, and maple syrup (or agave nectar). And the recipe? Toss it all in a blender until well mixed. Refrigerate until firm. Enjoy. For some extra fruit flavor, I added frozen (defrosted on the counter for about 20 minutes) strawberries, blue berries, and raspberries. I ate most of the mousse in one sitting, in case that vouches for the dessert's amazing sweet flavor! Give it a try! It is the perfect snack on a warm Chicago day!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Macaroni and Not Cheese with Nutritional Yeast

I culinary-ly geeked out over a recipe in the Engine 2 book, ate it, loved it, and then realized my body had another idea.

There's a recipe for Macaroni and Not Cheese. Whenever I have had gluten and dairy free mac and cheese, it was with goat cheese - a specialty of Eliot. (I'm actually cow's milk intolerant and my body is perfectly fine with goat's and sheep's cheese - sorry for any confusion caused by my misuse of the terms "dairy free" or "lactose free".) Of course, the vegans/plant-strong eaters found a delicious animal-product free version of this tasty meal. My first year out of college was filled with the Kraft version - I think my roommate and I kept milk in the fridge just so we could make the blue box favorite. I never branched out and really tried oven-cooked mac and cheese, so was excited to find that it wasn't too late - I could make my mac and cheese and eat it too! (With certified gluten free brown rice noodles, of course!)

The recipe was easy - onion, cashews, lemon juice, water and sea salt combined in a food processor topped with a mix of red peppers, nutritional yeast and garlic and onion powder on top all tossed with noodles before being baked in the oven before adding cilantro on top. Yum! Dinner that night was delicious - I liked the taste the nutritional yeast added to the party of flavors. When I was going to bed, I wasn't feeling well any more. I brushed it off. The next morning, I got sicker. I wasn't sure if I was having a food reaction or not since I only had two symptoms and a normal gluten reaction has over six immediate effects. I ate the mac and not cheese for lunch and felt horrible.

The internet is pointing me towards nutritional yeast as being gluten free. I didn't have an all-out gluten reaction, so I'm hesitant to label it as such. (Plus, I do not know the brand I ate.) The nutritional yeast was likely from a bulk bin, so the possibility always exists for in-store cross-contamination. Or, quite simply, my body does not tolerate it. Since I can't over-analyze what went wrong forever, I threw out the rest of my leftovers as well as the tablespoon or two I had left. I'm adding nutritional yeast to my intolerant list.

Since I had a detour from the nutritional yeast reaction that caused me to lose 2.4 pounds in two days (scary! This was my fastest weight loss ever, too!), I have added oil back into my diet for a calorie pick-me up. When I started, I dove straight into this 28-day challenge. I went the firefighter route which meant from the get-go, no dairy, animal products, oils, sodas, and more for the full 28 days. (I only "cheated" by having an egg as an ingredient in two pieces of gf bread, soda water in a mixed drink when out with friends, and small amounts of oil in homemade bread in a total of three weeks! Not bad!) When I went off lactose, it was a gradual process. For a few months, I could tolerate milk in packaged goods if it was in the bottom 5% of the ingredients. A few months after that, I was reacting to small amounts of butter. With gluten, I had to go cold-turkey and turn my diet around immediately. There was no cheating. One of the reasons I wanted to do this challenge was the excitement that I can get when I realize that I can eat forbidden foods again. With dairy, I'm going to slowly try to build up a tolerance so I can have foods with trace amounts again to ease anxiety over eating out and cross-contamination. With gluten, there's really no chance (unless medical science makes a giant breakthrough) that I'll ever be able to eat wheat, barely, or rye again. After my 28 days are up, I can eat fish. I can eat bacon. I can have a can of soda. I can toss my white rice pasta with extra virgin olive oil. These may not be the healthiest decisions I can make, but I can make them without wanting to die from pain within the hour I eat them.

Ultimately, I need to listen to my body. I should have better read my first round of reaction rather than aggravating it with a second round of the trouble-making food. (Not that this happened with meatballs only a few months ago or anything...) Am I sad to add another item to my intolerant list? Yes. Is it going to be hard? I was just starting to explore the possibilities of this new-to-me food, so it falls under disappointing but not life-changing.

EDIT: I found out that one of my favorite vegan chips contains nutritional yeast and I have been eating it in such quantity that I would have had dozens of reactions by now, but haven't. I think in this case I was just victim to cross contamination in the bulk bin.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Eggplant and tofu curry

As part of my twist on the 28 Day Healthy Eating Challenge, I'm trying hard to eat a rainbow of foods and broaden my horizons. I stocked up on tofu and was searching my favorite recipe site (Food Network) and discovered this recipe! Eggplant and tofu curry! It met my gluten and dairy free requirements without any substitutions (yay coconut milk!) so I was good to go. To meet the oil free requirements, I sprayed a little bit of Pam in my wok while cooking with no negative results. This was a really basic curry I served over a bed of quinoa. I liked the variety of veggies - eggplant (which I really only had before on a tofu kabob during Battle Tofu), onion, garlic, and loads of spinach. I always pass on adding jalapeño peppers. My stomach is very gringa - I'm not ready for spicy foods. I'm not totally sold on eggplant yet. I think my chunks were too big and probably not cooked long enough. I'll have to give eggplant another try with a different cooking style before officially moving it to the "meh" list.

The recipe is a super basic introduction into making curry. Now that I know the formula to follow, it will be easy to create loads of other curries in the future. And THAT'S what cooking is all about - learning the basics so you can create an endless variety of meals on the fly!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Arya Bhavan

My friends are great - they are all supporting me on my food journey - whether it is my lifelong standard cow's milk and gluten free or my temporary vegan hold-the-oil and no-soda challenge. We love to go out to eat, and the girls came up with a great place: Arya Bravan on 2508 W Devon in Chicago.

One of the boys teased that he had a doctor's note saying he needs to eat meat. Wrapped in bacon. Upon looking at the menu online, I learned that this friend could have his health in jeorporday! The girls chose a vegetarian Indian restaurant with loads of vegan options.

My friends had plenty of tasty, colorful plates as they loaded up from the buffet - an exciting opprotunity for the vegetarian in the group who said that she doesn't eat at buffets unless they are totally vegetarian. Our server said that there were lots of gluten free options on the buffet, but I'm still too nervous to partake. One wrong move with a patron and a spoon could easily cross-contiminate a dish. Plus, I rest easier knowing that when food is prepared just for me, the chef is aware of possible cross-contimation issues.

The server recommended a Dosa. I had no idea what it was, so told her I trusted her. A dosa is esentially a very thin crepe (bigger than my head) with some veggies inside and some dipping sauces. It was made with rice flour, she said. And probably some oil. When eating out, I haven't had the courage to ask for an oil-free dish yet. Since I already need to avoid gluten and cow's milk since I am super sensetive, I don't want to be precieved as an overly-picky guest. At a vegan restuarant, I only needed to say the wonderful v- word and I had loads of options available to me. One disappointment with the menu - online, vegan entres are clearly marked. This is not the case with the menu at the restaurant. There are also plenty of vegan drinks, our server said, but I didn't try one. Maybe next time.

Overall, this was a great place for eating Indian food with my friends. And I'm happy to report that my carnivore friend said the food was very good!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Basil Polenta

Here's an easy throw-together gluten free, vegan, nut free dish with generous portions of fresh foods!

1 18-oz package of polenta (I used Ancient Harvest Quinoa Polenta - Heirloom red and black), cut into 1/3" rounds
2 shallots, sliced
2 tomatoes, diced
3 gloves of garlic, minced
1 handful of basil, cut into strips with kitchen shears
Pam cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking spray. Place polenta on foil. Bake for 15 minutes.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray. Add shallots and garlic, cook until tender. Add tomatoes and cook for another two or three minutes. Add the basil on top. Cook for another two or three minutes.

Place the shallot/tomato/garlic/basil mixture on top of the polenta from the oven. Serve!
This made a fantastic grab and go lunch for me. One of my coworkers never tried polenta before (shh...I didn't either before going gluten free), so I gave her a spoonful and this recipe was awarded her seal of approval! So what exactly is polenta? The variety I buy is yellow corn meal with quinoa - yum! There are loads of recipes to try with it! For my super super easy pan-cooking polenta recipe, check out this post. Now is the BEST time to expand your culinary repertoire and try new foods! (If not now, then when?)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tofu Stir Fry

Mise en plas.

That's the secret to eating your veggies when stir-frying. The idea is to prepare all your ingredients ahead of time. Notice how recipes say "1 onion - diced" rather than saying "1 onion" and then step 1 is to dice your onion? It's because you're supposed to be ready to go before the stove is turned on. And if all your ingredients are chopped and neatly prepped in their respective bowls awaiting their orderly turn to enter the wok, you'll be able to quickly tell that your rainbow of vegetables is rather white. With my herbs standing only 1/16" tall in my windowsill garden, I couldn't even have the final splash of greens to the finished product.

Here's a delicious (even if rather white), oil free, gluten free, vegan stir fry:

Tofu with Rice Noodles and a Splash of Color
2 T gluten free soy sauce (I use San-J)
1 T brown sugar
1/2 t (or more to taste) Bragg's Liquid Aminos
2 cloves garlic, minced

Other ingredients:
1 package of extra firm tofu
2 bell peppers, diced
2 shallots, sliced
Pam cooking spray
1/2 T grated ginger
Rice flour noodles

Cut the tofu into equal sized cubes. Place in a medium sized non-metal bowl.
Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour over the tofu. Marinate in the fridge for about half an hour.

Prepare rice flour noodles according to the directions.

Heat the wok. Spray with cooking spray. Add the bell peppers. Cook for 3 minutes while stirring. Add the shallots while stirring. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add the ginger, tofu, and drained rice noodles while (you guessed it) stirring until everything is evenly heated. Serve!

For more ideas of how to maximize tofu, check out some of the dishes my friends and I created during our vegetarian and tree nut/dairy/gluten free dinner party when I was fully introduced to the chameleon qualities of tofu!

Here's a kitchen tool that normally doesn't get a lot of mention: my bamboo spoons. Aside from the eco-friendly, green-ness of the product, they are super cheap. When I went gluten free, I got rid of two things in my kitchen: my toaster and my wooden spoons. Since wooden spoons are often used for things like wheat pasta, gluten is allegedly absorbed in the cracks. Um, no thank you. I recently bought a set of three spoons and since I live with a completely gluten free kitchen, I have no worries of cross-contamination. Meanwhile, my family knows to switch to the plastic spoon whenever cooking something I will eat while at their house. Wooden cutting boards are off limits. Being gluten intolerant means I have to pay attention to not only the food, but the utensils used to create it! Stir frying with bamboo spoons is so easy! These spoons remain in perfect condition after I'm done, unlike my plastic spoons which tend to chip away during the stir fry process! Gross!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sorghum Bread

The Engine 2 Healthy Eating challenge goes beyond just a plant-strong vegan diet. No carbonated beverages or oils. Two staples in my standard gluten and cow's milk free diet. With the hope of saving money and trying new bread recipes, I decided from the start that I was going to bake one vegan gluten free bread a week.

Quickly, I ran into two problems:
  • Most recipes call for millet flour - which I do not have and the dreary Chicago weather was preventing me from wanting to leave my studio
  • Almost everything contains oil
Where was I going to compromise my standards a little? The bread. Making gluten free vegan bread and trying new recipes that have the potential to become staples in my lifelong repertoire is much more important to me than bending the rules a smidge with 1/4 cup of oil during a 28 day challenge.

I found this sorghum bread recipe from Book of Yum - a gluten free vegetarian website and it had some of the most accessible list of flours (translation: I had everything but teff or buckwheat flour already, so easily substituted garbanzo bean flour.) Instead of hemp milk, I used rice milk.

Making it was pretty easy. I used my handheld mixer with great results. I never worked with ground flax and water as an egg substitute before and I'm glad to say that it was an easy hands-off process thanks to my 3-cup food processor!

How did it taste? I should have taken better before and after pictures. I ate about several large slices within the hour it came out of the oven. I miss homemade, fresh tasting bread. Tomorrow, I plan on making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a spinach salad for lunch just so I can delight in the flavors again!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


As part of my challenge, I'm eating breakfast. Weekdays, that means I have to get up the first time my alarm clock sounds - not after the third time hitting snooze. So far, I've been eating Old Fashioned Rolled Oats (certified gluten free from Bob's Red Mill), toast with peanut butter, or fruit. This morning, I wasn't under any time pressure, so I made myself a proper breakfast.

With spinach.

One of the benefits of doing this challenge is access to related events. On Thursday evening, I went on a Health Starts Here tour of Whole Foods (actually, you can always go on a tour of the store - just ask an employee - I've always been too shy to do it before). Our first stop was the mangos in the entryway. Becky showed us how to choose a ripe mango and I asked what would go in a mango smoothie. (After all, the Mega Mango from Jamba Juice is my go to drink. Maybe I could make a similar product myself...) She and Mary from asmallloss suggested anything...but add spinach! (Mary also suggested some frozen berries, which I bought but haven't used yet.) I bought two mangos and took them home. It seemed like a crazy idea, but maybe they were on to something...

I mixed my smoothie and had some toast with peanut butter and a side of grapes. Bread is the only way I am cheating or bending the rules with going vegan. I found some egg-free bread, but have loads of gluten and dairy free bread in the freezer that needs to be eaten to make some room for the vegan bread. I'm currently loving Glutino's flax seed bread - a find in the clearance frozen section at Jewel a few months ago! Apparently no one was buying it? It was a ridiculously low price, I want to say $2.00 or so. Don't worry - the bread is almost gone and I'll be making some gluten free, oil free, vegan bread tomorrow!

My Mega Spinach Mango Banana Smoothie
1 banana
2 mangos
1 handful of spinach, washed
1/4 c rice milk

Mix all ingredients together in a blender. Add ice cubes and straw.

Makes: 1 generous serving

This shake was a far cry from my delicious chocolate one that I totally did not eat for dinner that night (in case my mom is reading). Was it good? Were Becky and Mary on to something delicious? Yes. Couldn't even taste the spinach and I've been on a spinach kick lately!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Healthy Eating Challenge - Day 2

My first day vegan and soda free went off without a hitch. So of course, Day 2 was going to present some unusual situations.

I went to my first ever conference for work through The Day Job. They advertised one of the perks of going as a free contential breakfast. Oh goodie! Bagels and cream cheese. The registration form included a spot for special needs, so I wrote in gluten and lactose intolerant and saw what would happen. I stopped a Jamba Juice and had an all-fruit Mega Mango (all their smoothies can be made non-dairy and only one of their smoothies and a handful of boosts contain gluten). At the conference, there were bagels, cream cheese, coffee and dougnuts galore. Thankfully, there was some fresh fruit and water also available. In the afternoon, there as a refreshment break: they served cookies, hot soft pretzels, soda, juice and some fruit. I went with the juice. The only thing I had to choose differently from my standard gluten/dairy free diet was passing over the soda. I'm more tired than usual - I didn't realize how much I depended on my lunchtime soda for a mid-day pick me up!

For lunch, my co-worker and I went over to foodlife at Water Tower Place - great for tourists, shoppers, and conference attendees. foodlife is organized so you can order what you like and pay at the end - they swipe a credit card style card. I'm always a fan of these cafeteria-like settings - I can be as difficult or indecisive as I need to without slowing down a coworker and we all have loads of choices. I asked the host if he had any recommendations for gluten free foods. And then I got a sheet. Nine different stands had gluten free food! Win! But then I noticed the heavy mention of meat. The salmon and sushi sounded so good - so did the hamburger on the homemade gluten free bun! For ease, I went to the salad vendor and marvelled at all their gluten free choices, marked with a green g. I identified myself as gluten intolerant and ordered tofu for my protien and choose some other toppings. I told the man wild rice (clearly labeled gluten free) and he put the ingredient next to it on it. I asked what that was but he didn't understand. I asked someone else and she told me: bulgar.

I had them make me a new salad.

I've never done that before. I felt like a royal pain since it was the last ingredient to go on the salad, but of all things, why did gluten end up on my salad! I'm all for gluten free ingredients in salads, but there were a lot of gluten containing items surrounding it that made me nervous. Labeled gluten free goodies were next to wheat containing items. One unsteady move with a spoon could easily contiminate my food.

Thankfully, I made it through my salad (take 2) with spinach, tofu, corn, endame, guac and wild rice with a basic vingerate without any other incident. (Grand total of my salad lunch with water: $9.81. Got to love city lunches!)

foodlife has loads of choices for people on a gluten free diet. I'd be interested to compare a gluten free list with a dairy free list (if one was available) and truly see all of my available options. That homemade gluten free hamburger bun is teasing me...I'd love to go back after the 28 Day Challenge and give it a taste!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Healthy Eating Challenge - Day 1

I'm going on a diet.

Correction - on a lifestyle.

For 28 days, I am participating in a Healthy Eating Challenge through Whole Foods. This is a plant-strong way of eating from the book The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn.

My biggest challenge? I can't lose any weight.

Today, I weigh 88.4 pounds. I stand only 4' 11 1/4" tall and have always been tiny. When I first went dairy free over two years ago, I lost about three pounds. After going gluten free 11 months ago, I lost an average of 8 pounds. At my skinniest only about two months ago, I was 85 pounds.

So why go plant-strong and say no to all animal products (including meats, fish, and eggs)?

My plates have been very white lately. My diet was turning into white rice with meat. Maybe some veggies or fruit. The pictures I posted on the blog were the best-of's. Not every meal had a vegetable. I am also scared to get into a diet rut. With a limited number of gluten and dairy free packaged goods available, I was finding myself eating the same products over and over again. As I heard from the Gluten Free Expo, we eat the same foods over and over - just in different combinations. A white plate is devoid of nutrients - I need to eat a rainbow!

So for the next 28 days, my diet and blog will be:
  • Vegetarian and vegan
  • Oil free
  • Carbonated beverage free
  • Dairy free
  • Egg free
  • Fish and shell-fish free
  • Gluten free
  • White rice light
  • Devoid of (or very light on) packaged and unnecessarily processed foods (translation: I need to be able to pronounce all the ingredients)
  • Focused on healthy eating and maximizing nutrients readily available in fruits and vegetables
  • Recipe testing - one gluten free vegan bread a week!
The only three of the top 8 allergens that will be represented will be soy, peanuts and tree nuts.

And here are my obstacles:
  • I have had a soda a day since college. The caffeine in Coke and Pepsi helps my chronic headaches.
  • I will also be exercising - 20-30 minutes 5 days a week.
  • I'm skinny and cannot lose any more weight.
  • I normally do not eat any breakfast or will snack on dry cereal from a plastic bag.
  • I love white rice and haven't really enjoyed brown rice too much
  • I need to be careful with so I do not accidentally eat any gluten. My last reaction was probably from the smallest trace of gluten and yet was so severe I had to leave work early.
  • And I need to do all of this while working over 40 hours a week.
I will be one of 18 Chicago-based bloggers taking part in this 28-Day Challenge with Whole Foods. I'm excited for the opportunity to change my diet.
For those new to the blog, here are some "recap" style links: a Memorial Day versus Labor Day comparison of me on and off gluten and a year in review entry. I had an appendectomy on October 15, 2008. I was still having health problems and saw a gastro who told me to simply get on the pill. In early Spring 2009, a friend help diagnose my lactose intolerance. I tested her theory with a milk challenge and realized that milk was making my symptoms worse. (My stomach hurt, I didn't feel like eating, I drank a milk shake, my stomach hurt...it was a nasty cycle.) In December 2009, my symptoms were getting much worse even though I was completely off dairy. Three gastros, 5 tubes of blood, 2 rounds of stool testing, 1 CT scan, 1 chest x-ray, an echo later and a colonscopy and upper-endoscopy later, I self-diagnosed as gluten intolerant near the end of June 2010. The gastro agreed, wrote it in my chart, and I maintained a gluten free diet ever since. There was a major difference in my health when I was off gluten. All of my symptoms disappeared within five days. Do I think a gluten free diet is the answer for everyone? Not at all. If you are intolerant, then yes, you should follow a gluten free lifestyle. If not, enjoy your wheat, barely, rye, and (most) oats!

Here's to the rainbow!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Microwavable Lunch: Patak's Original

I recently discovered Patak's Original Indian food at the grocery store (enticed by a coupon, no less) and turned over their products to see if they were gluten and dairy free. Most Indian food is (they tend to use coconut milk rather than cow's milk!) and Patak's was no exception. They actually had the most creative and colorful labeling I have seen! I am enticed to buy their product with declarations like "100% natural", "Free from artificial colors, flavors & preservatives" but am totally sold when seeing "Gluten free" and "Suitable for vegans"!

I had the Vegetable Korma curry with rice (only one pepper out of five on the spicy scale) for lunch at work. It worked extremely well for a dish that is easy to store in a desk drawer for days when I just didn't have time to cook something completely homemade. It was very tasty and really packed in flavor, but wasn't too filling. My lunch looked nothing like the enticing picture on the box. I should have brought my fresh herbs to work to garnish! Next

Overall, something worth buying again for easy lunch solutions! I think I will be buying some of Patak's other products and creating some Indian dishes in my kitchen rather than just the microwave at work!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mexican Taco Pizzas

In honor of Cinco de Mayo coming up and moms I have been meeting who are always on the lookout for kid and allergy friendly menu ideas, I present (Americanized) Mexican Gluten Free Dairy Free Beef Taco Pizzas. Kids will love these since they can help in the kitchen and can personalize their own meal.

Aw, who am I kidding? I am in my mid-twenties and was super excited to make and eat these!

1lb of ground beef
1/2 cup water
1 T chili powder
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1 can of diced tomatoes
Flat crispy corn taco shells/tostadas (I used Guerrero's Tostadas Caseras)
1 can of refried beans
Dairy free cheese (I used Rice Vegan - American flavor - that is dairy, soy, gluten and lactose free. Since they were in slices I sliced the cheese into cheddar-like strips.)
Lettuce - thinly sliced

Cooking Instructions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brown the beef in a skillet over medium heat. Drain. Stir in water, chili powder, cumin, coriander and undrained tomatoes. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat. Simmer (uncovered) for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place taco shells or tostadas on a cookie sheet. Add a layer of refried beans. Add the beef and tomato mixture on top. Sprinkle on cheese.

Cook for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from oven, add lettuce.
Feel free to add your favorite taco toppings to this pizza! The sky is the limit with options! I was working with what I had in the pantry and refrigerator for these particular pizzas.

A note on reheating: refrigerating and microwaving fully built pizzas left me with somewhat soggy and depressing results. The best way to "reheat" is to build the tacos again and cook in the oven for 12-15 minutes (assuming the beef mixture came straight from the refrigerator).

Sunday, May 1, 2011

2011 Chicago Gluten and Allergen Free Expo

Delicious foods in an environment full of "yes"? Don't mind if I do!

I spent Saturday at the 2011 Gluten and Allergen Free Expo (in Lisle, a Chicago suburb). This was obviously my first gluten free expo (I am now about 10.5 months gluten free) so was excited by the classes offered in addition to the vendor fair. I chose the Essentials track and was ready for learning opportunities and taste testing to supplement all my book and blog reading about how to live a full life full of rich foods on a gluten free diet.

My morning started with a breakfast buffet and I was thrilled to try Udi's gluten free bagels for the first time! My first bagel in over a year! They were delicious - even untoasted! (I was too nervous to use the toaster that was available.) Then I went into a room full of other gluten free people and started the day.

Jasmine from my local chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group in Chicago (meetings are the first Thursday of the month at the South Loop Whole Foods at 7:00pm) MC'd the morning's events. We started with an extremely educational and exciting presentation by physician Dr. Stephen Wangen, author of Healthier Without Wheat. I was excited to learn that he is gluten intolerant (non-Celiac)! There's more of us out there! In fact, a larger percentage of people are gluten intolerant non Celiac than are Celiac! When I first found out I was ncgi, I thought I was in the minority! Hearing Dr. Wangen speak was the missing piece from speaking to any of my doctors about being gluten intolerant. Without even having the chance to read his book, I know I am going to be highly recommending it! I can't wait to read it myself!

Perhaps my favorite part of the day was when Silvana Nardone, author of (my personal favorite cookbook) Cooking for Isiah and blogger at dishtoweldiaries spoke and baked. She made Jalapeño Popper Waffles and Chocolate-Dipped Chocolate Doughnuts. Needless to say, these were my first gf doughnuts and (non-frozen) waffles. And they were delicious! Her recipes are easy to follow and have me itching to break in my waffle iron and start experimenting. The best recipes are ones that inspire you to create more and bring the recipe to new heights with different flavor combinations! Slivana said that the recipes she creates need to be these three things: fast, easy, delicious. She reminded all of us that we shouldn't stop at the first failures - there will be a lot of failures - and that we should be persistent! Where's my apron? I've got to get to work!

Next up was Anne Byrn, the Cake Doctor, who recently wrote The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free. She enhances box mixes and can even turn a small gf mix into a two layer cake! Quite the feat with the small boxes that are available! Anne even said that many of her recipes in this book include dairy free options as well and all the frostings can be made dairy free! She mentioned that gluten free cakes do not refrigerate well, so it is best to freeze them then when they are needed, thaw and frost. She made a Honey Bun Cake, Gluten-Free Lemon Bars and a Fresh Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting for us - all were very delicious!

Marlisa Brown, a chef, registered dietitian, and author of Gluten-Free Hassel-Free talked about the importance of whole grains in your diet. Grains and flours in plastic bags were passed around the room so we could feel and smell the different options available. She made Sun Butter Oatmeal Granola Bars and Falafel with Tahini Sauce. Both were very good and filling. After going home, I bought ingredients so I can make both of these dishes myself. I'm at my "scary skinny" point so am hoping that by adding things like bars into my diet, I can gain some weight and look healthy again. Marlisa raised a very good point - most people select the same foods over and over - just in different combinations. I'm itching to spice up my food repertoire with more whole grains now!

We then had about a two hour break for lunch and the vendor fair. Lunch was served buffet style - everything was gluten and dairy free. There were salads with plenty of toppings for personalization, chicken breasts, breaded chicken tenders, beef, and bread. The lunch was okay - the real treat was the dessert. Cheesecake and cookies! (As if I didn't already have enough sugar that morning!) The cheesecake was heavenly. I can't compare it to a traditional dairy-filled cheesecake because I never had one before! But the gfdf option was amazing!

The vendor fair was amazing! I was fortunate enough to go to a mini-version of the vendor fair with the University of Chicago Celiac Screening last fall. Otherwise I would have been so over-whelmed! There were nearly seventy vendors represented, offering tastings of their food, free sample packages, and coupons! There was information galore! Writers and bloggers had their books available for purchase! I took a picture of everything I ate and looking through the photos, it was an insane amount of food! The vendors were great and were able to quickly point me towards the options that were also dairy free. I had Magner's Irish Cider that was really tasty (I was never a beer drinker, so am excited to add a cider into my drinking varieties), Zema's Madhouse breads full of a wide variety of grains, San-J sauces and crackers, an insane amount of cookies from Kinnikinnick foods, the newest products from Enjoy Life Foods and much, much more!

After eating more than a normal week's worth of sugar in a matter of hours, it was time to head back into the conference room for even more treats! Lee Tobin, the chef and baker at the Whole Foods Bakehouse, taught us how to make Chocolate Eclairs (with Chocolate Ganache and Pastry Cream) - completely dairy free as well!!! - and gluten free fig bars. His demonstration was filled with pointers along the way, from making sure to add the eggs one at a time to emulsify fat to how to properly fill a pastry bag. I really loved that these were not traditional drop cookies - I learned techniques that would otherwise be scary to me (like piping an eclair or folding a fig bar) and made them completely accessible.

Our last presenter of the day was Beth Hillson, founder of the Gluten-Free Pantry and president of the American Celiac Disease Alliance. She reminded us that attitude is three-quarters of the battle. With substituions - anything is possible! Beth gave us loads of ideas of how to use wraps, enhance cupcakes and muffins and more! She even gave us the secret to help prevent wraps from breaking - warm them up (she used a pan) and then flip it and then (off the pan) add a moisture barrier, like cream cheese, hummus or mayo.

I had a great time at the expo and highly recommending going! It was a lot of fun and I left with a lot of resources, a full stomach, and a few new friends in the gluten free community who shared some great advice!