Sunday, July 31, 2011

Introducing Rawr-y

Getting a Kitchen Aid Mixer was one of my life goals. Growing up, my mom always promised me that she would buy one for me when I got married. As a kid, I always thought that I would get married right after college. But when I came out in college, I was paranoid that I would never have a proper wedding ceremony therefore would never get the proper gift I dreamed of as a baking-loving kid. I started saving up my credit card points and was counting down the months until I "earned" the Kitchen Aid (even though my mom is supportive and would have still bought me a mixer when my happy day arrived). Then I saw it on sale on Black Friday and the amazingly low door buster price was much more cost efficient than the points. I bought it on the spot and took it out of the box at my mom's house and sat on her living room floor while making sure all the parts were there and it worked. Then, reality sunk in. The Kitchen Aid didn't fit into my tiny studio apartment kitchen (the microwave ended up taking over most of my desk when I began cooking more), so the Kitchen Aid would need to stay at my mom's until I moved. I took pictures of my greatest kitchen purchase and put them as the background image on my laptop to remind me that I made it into adulthood - I had my own mixer and just needed to find the proper home for it. I e-mailed a picture of it to Eliot:

Michelle: I feel like it needs to have a name. I feel bad for leaving it alone in my childhood bedroom, but I think it will manage... I don't know how I'll manage, however.
Eliot: Haha, it looks like a baby dinosaur. We'll think of a name for it.

I loved his response and couldn't help but think "Rawr!" so Rawr-y was christened!

A month after moving, when all my flours were properly put away and my kitchen was organized, Rawr-y came to life. Her first creations were chocolate cupcakes for my birthday. I used a recipe from You Won't Believe It's Gluten Free! Those recipes are extremely simple and tend to be one-flour recipes, which is rare for gf baking. I was a little concerned about the amount of sugar compared to some of the other ingredients (1.5 cups sugar, 1 cup potato starch, 3/4 cup oil, 3 eggs, among other things) as the recipe only made 15 cupcakes, but I was sharing them with adults who could responsibly handle a sugar overload better than kids - right? While the cupcakes were baking, Rawr-y got a handwash so I could make the frosting. Bring on the sugar!

Michelle's Frosting
6 T Crystal Farms Vegetable oil spread (non-dairy "butter")
pinch of salt
2 cups (plus more) of powdered sugar
3 t vanilla (plus more) rice milk

Cream together the vegetable oil spread and pinch of salt. Then add the 2 cups of powdered sugar and 3 t vanilla rice milk (alternatively - use original rice milk and add a splash or two of vanilla) until smooth. Slowly add additional powdered sugar or rice milk until the desired consistency is reached. Do not settle for mediocre frosting! Adding a little bit more of one ingredient can make all the difference between "meh" and "holy cow!" frosting! I tend to average 2.5 to 3 cups of powdered sugar.

See? Just as easy as opening a tub of over-processed frosting!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Juggling a new home (unpacking, learning that gas stoves are VERY different from electric, building bookshelves), new responsibilities at work, cooking energy-providing foods, and then blogging about it was a bit harder than I thought! The dishwasher has already been a tremendous help - it gives me a few hours of my week back. Now if only I could teach it to make me a sandwich...

By the time I get home from work and face a wall of heat (we've had a very hot and wet July in Chicago), the last thing I want to do is turn on my stove or oven. I've been eating a lot of sandwiches, salads, grilled meats, and rice. My cooking has turned very low-key to cope with the heat as well as give me time to spend elsewhere in my new place. My food motto lately has been KISS - Keep It Simple Suppers.

Here's my salad. Doesn't look much like a salad, right? I swear, underneath the generous servings of avocado (healthy fats!), red onions, tomatoes, and wild rice cooked in the rice cooker, there ARE some spinach leaves (calcium!)! The rice is such a welcome addition to any of my salads!

Pictured above is brown rice penne tossed with olive oil, lemons, tomatoes, and basil leaves with once-frozen talipia coated with seasoning grilled on the George. Nothing fancy, all this was thrown together in minutes.

Tonight I toasted an Udi's bagel and smeared peanut butter and grape jelly on it. If that doesn't scream simple, I don't know what does. My dinner, though, was inspired by the train conductor who said, "Have a good night. Enjoy your steak supper. Or your peanut butter and jelly." Why not have a meal chosen by an overhead announcer? The steak supper sounded lovely, but that would have required another trip to the grocery store.

In exciting news - my weight is slowly but steadily starting to climb up! I hit my record adult low soon after doing the healthy eating challenge and moving (too much exercise up and down stairs!), but I'm seeing the numbers on the scale starting to once again stretch towards a healthier weight. Maybe I should have dairy-free ice cream more often. That seems to be doing the trick...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I Scream, You Scream

I feel like such a kid again.

A few weeks ago while visiting my mom, we headed to the grocery store and she told me to choose an ice cream to keep in the freezer at her house. I eyed the wide selection of dairy free desserts, apparently for too long, because it prompted my mom to tell me to get whatever I wanted. I saw chocolate brownie "ice cream", smiled, and looked at the ingredients. Dairy free does not mean wheat free. Ultimately, I settled (more like got excited over another fun flavor combination) for a chocolate peanut butter swirl option. The ice cream never even made it to the freezer when we got home as I helped myself to an over generous serving.

The July meeting for the Chicago chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group in the South Loop was a dairy free ice cream social...complete with ice cream cones! We had two gluten free cone options (which were on sale at Whole Foods - still kicking myself for not buying them) - cake or sugar - or plastic bowls. There were four different varieties offered, but when I heard chocolate chip cookie dough, my emotions were a cross between a swear-word string of excitement and giggling with my eyes wide open. I have never been so excited to eat a particular food before. I had my coconut milk ice cream with its certified gluten free chocolate chip cookie dough in a sugar cone and felt like I was transported to summers in my childhood. Truly, this was a little bit of heaven on earth and I normally hold back from exclaiming praise like this. But this ice cream is GOOD. You must try it - whether or not you are gluten and/or dairy free. The ice cream is so creamy and the cookie dough has just the perfect texture. (Don't worry - I got seconds.)

So imagine my childlike excitement during an otherwise very adult, routine shopping trip
to the local Dominick's to buy groceries for dinner lead me past their dairy free ice cream (for two reasons: I watch sale prices on their gluten and dairy free products and it was almost 100 degrees and a stroll through the freezer section felt good) and their ice cream was on sale (win!) and they had the So Delicious chocolate chip cookie dough! The regular price was $5.59, down to their new low price of $4.99 but only $3.59 with your Dominick's Card! (Through July 26, price found at the Dominick's on Foster and Sheridan in Chicago. Hurry, because I'm probably going to stock up on their ice cream before the sale ends.)

I went home, scooped myself a big bowl of unmatched perfection, and sat on my porch with my feet up, cooling off in the most delicious way possible.

What more can I say? Life is great!

So Delicious's Purely Decadent's coconut milk cookie dough non-dairy frozen dessert contains coconuts and soy. It is a vegan product.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Valerie's Mexican Fiesta

For my sister's birthday this year, she wanted a Mexican Fiesta. Having themed family parties is always fun - there's a variety of foods to eat all fitting neatly under one theme. And having a party at my mom's house means I can have some say in how much gluten there will be. There was only one offending item: flour tortillas. For appetizers/munchies (my family is big on grazing on food throughout the afternoon, so much so that on family party days, my siblings and I never really ate a proper lunch), we had veggies, fruit, and corn tortilla chips with five different kinds of salsas and a few dips, guacamole, and hummus. Since nothing contained gluten that was out, I was free to dip my food from the bowl like everyone else.

For the main course to our fiesta (yes, I appreciate the irony that in celebration
of my sister's Independence Day birthday we had Mexican food - even if it was watered down Mexican) we had tacos - there were two different kinds of corn shells - tostadas and the traditional crispy corn variety - and soft shell flour burriotos. I was in charge of cooking our rice - I used Guy Fieri's Mambo Rice recipe from to great fanfare from the family. It was made with basmati rice, gluten free chicken stock from Sam's Club and loads of fresh ingredients finely chopped. This was an easy rice cooker dish - the ratio of liquid to rice was spot on! My mom meanwhile grilled the meats and my sister made her "spicy corn" dish - made two ways - with or without butter. Everyone loved the build your own taco idea and the easy dishes naturally lent themselves to more time with the family and less time in the kitchen.

My sister decided that she didn't want a cake this year. My mom wanted me to find a recipe with rhubarb that I could eat since she harvested some from her garden. After twenty minutes of surfing the internet, I only found gluten-free recipes rather than naturally gluten free options (except for the compote). Another trip to and we were eating Mexican Brownies, again from Guy Fieri. Brownies were the easiest since I was able to buy Bob's Red Mill mix and dump the bag into the bowl rather than try to measure everything out (I have a lot of dairy-free substitutions at my mom's house but not that many flour options other than white rice flour.) I did my best to combine the two recipes, always defaulting to Bob's instructions when there was a discrepancy. The required about 5-10 minutes longer than recommended and due to the liquid from the rhubarb compote, I omitted adding water. For the brownies, you could really taste the chocolate - I used Baker's chocolate - and they turned out to be very rich and decadent. We even successfully passed them off to some of my sister's friends and no one noticed that they were gfdf (made with a vegetable oil spread stick to keep it dairy free) - they just tasted different because of the extra chocolate, rhubarb, and cinnamon. This must be the way to go with gf baking! Make something so different that no one can compare it! Overall, it was a great party with lots of delicious food and company to celebrate my sister's latest trip around the sun! Happy Birthday, Valerie!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A new kitchen

I always loved the idea of being a starving artist, needing to cut corners and think of creative solutions to help live creatively on the cheap. I am no longer a theatre professional (my early retirement came with the decline of my health followed by my new-found love of cooking) and my day job helps me afford good living conditions. That, and one can only live in a cramped studio (see pictures here) for so long before the stress of cooking appliances tumbling out of the kitchen and squeezing past your bike in the hallway get to you. When I moved into my studio, it was great - I didn't mind the small kitchen since my cooking skills were limited and I was never home as I worked multiple jobs. Over the next two years, I realized that I needed something more than a two-butt kitchen and the last thing I ever wanted to do was wash dishes just so I could cook a simple dinner. Originating with my food intolerances and my desire to lead a healthier life, my priorities shifted and thatmeant more time in the kitchen and eating at a table rather than in front of my laptop on my desk. So I did what my budget allowed and moved. To a wonderful unit with: a kitchen large enough for several people, a gas stove, ice dispenser on the freezer door, a garbage disposal (still scared to use it...), tons of cabinet space, outdoor space to grow tomatoes, and most importantly: a dishwasher. Okay, the bedroom door was also a selling point, but I am so grateful for the dishwasher. The unit was even billed as having a "gourmet kitchen" - perfect for me as I am forever growing my cooking skills! And with this move, I was able to finally be with all my kitchen toys I bought on a Black Friday sale last year. (I'll soon be announcing my new love in my life: my Kitchen Aid stand mixer! I'm still deciding on its inaugural dish.) The kitchen is still a bit of a mess as I'm settling in and deciding where to put everything, but the new area to play in really feels like home.

I moved over the course of a week and a half, which meant I was juggling where do I eat my meals with lets-wash-everything-I-own-in-the-new-dishwasher. My first order of business after getting keys was to disinfect the dishwasher with cleaning wipes. The previous occupants left everything pretty spotless, so my concerns about cross-contamination were near invisible. After I was unloading round 4 of already clean dishes, I noticed something at the bottom of the dishwasher. A four-inch noodle. And it wasn't mine.

I called my mom in a panic, and she was really sympathetic: "Sorry you'll have to wash everything again, Michelle." I was dreading doing that, but if I didn't, I would have been sick for months since I was washing everything - including dusty Christmas cookie cutters. I had a good cry and unloaded the dishwasher. The next morning, my brother helped me take apart the dishwasher and I cleaned every nook and cranny that I could get to without major surgery. Turns out the wonderful dishwasher doesn't do a very good job of pulverizing food, so everything needs to be rinsed first. By the time I was done, that dishwasher was as clean as it was ever going to be. When I was telling other people about my traumatic misadventure, they asked if I would still get sick since that noodle went through the dishwasher so many times. Here's my theory: it may have been a very clean noodle, but some soap doesn't change its gluten properties (that and I pictured it manically laughing while evilly dancing over every single surface of the dishwasher's contents - but maybe that is just me). The noodle incident was a major step backwards in getting my kitchen organized, but I am glad I caught it early on! Luckily, I somehow even managed to not use a single "clean" dish and therefore was not glutenized once while juggling a move.

Many most posts and pictures to come! Sorry for being absent - needed to get organized and get cooking again! The dishwasher (now that we are on good terms) is already freeing me up to make more multiple-pan meals and cook creatively!