Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Farmer's Market Asparagus Soup

It's my favorite time of the year!  Farmer's Market Season!  Time to leave the office and enjoy some time in the sun while shopping for fresh veggies, fruits, sweets, plants and much more at Daley Plaza.  The 2012 Chicago Farmer's Market at Daley Plaza (50 W Washington, in front of the courthouse) runs from May 24 to October 18 every Thursday from 7:00am until 3:00pm.

On my first visit of the year last Thursday, I bought some herbs to fast track my city garden.  Planting from seeds is great, but the reality is I miss having fresh herbs available at home, so the plants will tide me over while my other plants slowly grow.  I'm adding parsley, basil, tarragon, chives, parsley, oregano and more to the herb starting line up - including the newcomer chocolate mint!  It smelled so good (like chocolate) I could not pass it up.  And yes, I was that girl with the flat of herbs on the bus later that evening...  To some, I may have looked silly or crazy, but the reality is I've toted far weirder things on the bus (empty child's wheelchair tops the list).  And these herbs are crucial to the tastiness of my food!

I was also tempted by fresh (and super cheap) asparagus so I bought two bunches at the farmer's market.  Once I got home, I made Cream of Asparagus Soup, using this recipe from Skinny Taste.  Keep it gluten free by reading the labels of chicken stock for hidden culprits and keep it dairy free by subbing Earth Balance for the butter and coconut milk for the sour cream.  Normally I use homemade stock, but Pacific Natural Foods was very generous in providing me some samples of their gluten free and dairy free goodies.  I tried their gfcf organic free range chicken broth - one spoonful put my homemade version to shame!  The rumors are right: quality ingredients really do make a difference in foods!  With organic chicken broth and local asparagus, I was pretty much guaranteed a high quality, tasty soup.  It did not disappoint!  The soup is extremely simple to prepare and even hits the spot on the hot summer-like days we have been having.  It was a relatively hands off recipe until the end when I spent about a minute blending everything together with my immersion blender.  I've never made soup with asparagus before but I'm glad I branched out and discovered something new for my recipe box.  This soup really is worth trying!

For more information on Chicago's Farmers Markets, check out this really helpful link from  This season, I will be spotlighting a different vendor from the Daley Plaza Farmer's Market!  Check back weekly for this fun feature.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Soup for (under) a buck

Can you feed a group of 15 on a buck?  Total.

This was the challenge presented to my Food, Faith and Sustainability group last week.  Our homework was to bring food for our group potluck.  Majority of us were given a dollar budget.  Only $1.00 to feed a group of 15.  A few people were given larger sums ($3.00 and $5.00) while one person could spend as much as she liked.

The easy way out as one of the $1.00 folks would have been to go to the Dollar Tree, pick up some snack food, and call it a day.  But I can't eat most packaged food (and if I can, it is triple the price of its wheat and milk bearing cousins) and I would like to eat, too.  I toyed with a few ideas (the ever popular rice, beans, and lentils; the ever tasty meringues; the super easy scrambled eggs and/or fries) before deciding on soup.  If I used homemade broth that has been hanging out in my freezer, the cost would be free!  I made my broth when cooking a whole chicken, so any ingredients that went into that were for flavoring the chicken and were already consumed.  The water was saved from being poured down the drain, so I should get a few gold stars for rescuing something so tasty.

I am financially fortunate and blessed that none of my meals require me to measure out how much this will cost (carrots were going to make an appearance, but at 4 cents each, they were passed up for the super pricey (all things considered) lime for a dime).  My ingredients come from a total of four grocery stores.  I live in a fantastic neighborhood - the Asian grocery stores have dirt cheap prices on things that are naturally gluten free (CARTS full of food there can cost around $100.00 - includes lots of protein).  A nearby market that sells limes for a dime each - and other produce and protein for rock bottom prices.  And then there is Dominicks - my source for everything else, including items that need to carry the gluten free label, where my dollar does not go too far.

This recipe was more of a math equation than I am used to.  I would have loved to add some carrots, mung beans, and cilantro, but then I would have had to sacrifice the noodles, which is pretty much my favorite part.  

Is it doable?  More importantly, does it taste good?
I did it for 98 cents.  It tasted delicious.  It did not feel like soup for a buck, but it was a great way to stretch a dollar on a restricted diet, eat healthy empty out my freezer from all my stock, introduce people to some new foods, and flex my math skills in the kitchen.  The lemon grass and fish sauce, although only appearing in small amounts, make their presence known, marrying the flavors together.

In college, I learned about this triangle.  It carries over in a lot of decision making in my everyday life.  If you want something to be cheap, it can be either good or fast.  You can never have all three.  Since I wanted good and cheap for my soup, I had to sacrifice fast by shopping around, carefully planning and cooking the soup myself.  Worth it?  Yes!

Lemon Grass Chicken Soup with Rice Vermicelli
Makes an impressive 15 servings.
11 cups homemade chicken broth
2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
1 stalk of lemon grass, bruised
2 teaspoons of fish sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
9 oz rice vermicelli
1 lime
1 green onion, thinly sliced for garnish

Heat a nonstick pan and add 1/3 cup chicken stock.  Add celery and stir until softened (about 5 minutes), adding additional stock as necessary. 
Add remainder of chicken stock to a large pot.  Bring to boil.  Add celery, lemon grass, and fish sauce.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to boil then reduce heat, simmering uncovered for about 10 minutes. 
Add water in a large pot.  Bring to boil.  Add rice vermicelli and cook for 4-5 minutes (or per package directions).  Rinse with cool water.  Set aside.
Spoon rice vermicelli into bowls, then add soup (discarding the lemon grass).  Add green onions as garnish.  Zest the lime over the soup and add a squeeze of the juice to the soup.

Here was my cost breakdown.  Salt, pepper, and chicken broth were my freebies.
How far do you stretch your dollar?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Summer Corn Salad

If you invite me to a barbecue or potluck this summer, there is a really good chance I'll be bringing Summer Corn Salad.

I found this recipe on Pinterest. (Hooked on Pinterest yet?  No?  You really should join the fun!  And follow me!  Summer Corn Salad from is naturally gluten, dairy, and top 8 allergen free, this recipe was sinfully simple.  I made a few small changes (namely swapping out spicy red peppers for colorful bell peppers sauteed in oil) and modified some of the portions.  Why do I love it?  It is fast, super easy, has familiar ingredients, free of all the major allergens and travels very well.  This summer, the two barbecues I attended were an hour away on public transit from my home, so I needed a dish that can handle the travel without spoiling or looking ugly.  This was perfect!  I placed it in a large plastic storage container, added a spoon and off I went!

As for the taste?  My cousins loved it and kept going back for more.  My mom loved it and declared it a keeper.  The ladies at an outdoor barbecue loved it and ate it up!  It has a really fun blend of different textures and tastes with every bite.  As silly as it sounds, it really does taste like summer.  It is perfect for the hot weather we are starting to have in Chicago.  The Chilled Summer Corn Salad can be a side salad, a little taste of the many available dishes, scooped up with a taco chip, or even a burger topping!  The possibilities are endless! (I'm now thinking about tossing it in with some rice noodles for a great lunch dish...)  Not a fan of any of the veggies?  Swap them out.  Have lots of fresh veggies to use?  Go ahead - no need to use canned or frozen.  Once summer is in full swing and my Topsy Turvey is yielding something other than green leaves, I am sure I will be using homegrown cherry tomatoes myself.

Here's how I made my version:

Chilled Summer Corn Salad
1.5 pounds of frozen corn (most bags are 1 pound)
2 diced bell peppers
1 diced red onion
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
1/3 c lime juice
1/3 c olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat corn in a large pot with water, according to package directions.  Do not over cook.

Saute the bell peppers in oil in a large pan.

In a large bowl (or the pot once the corn is done), toss everything together, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Chill.  Can make a day (or two or three) in advance (the leftovers were still super tasty).

Delicious cold (or even reheated).  Pairs nicely with burgers and tortilla chips.  Makes enough to serve a crowd (of a dozen or so).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gluten Free Communion

One of the few times when I don't want to panic about gluten or dairy sneaking its way into my food is during communion.  When I first started attending Urban Village Church in Chicago, I always had a mini panic attack.  What if they didn't have gf communion?  Are they handling it correctly?  Is it really gluten free or does it have minute traces of wheat like wafers from the Catholic Church? (I will not take communion at a Catholic service after reading articles like this and this where the answer to "Is it safe?" is "Probably".)  Every week, with eagle eyes, I would silently watch the celebrant and make sure he or she did not break the wheat bread over the gluten free wafers.  After a year, one day, the unthinkable happened: while walking to the serving station, someone realized he had too much to carry (half a loaf of wheat bread, a cup, and a plate of gf wafers) and he put the wheat bread on top of the wafers.  As he passed me, we both realized what happened.  I rushed to the serving station and said that the wafers were no longer gluten free.  I sat out from communion that day and prayed, thanking God that I narrowly escaped a gluten reaction.

The innocent action (who can blame him?) opened up a new conversation about how we literally handle the gluten free communion.  We decided that the next week, I would make one loaf for the church: gluten free, vegan, and top 8 allergen free.  I had a recipe in mind and made one of my favorites: the house bread from Flying Apron Bakery's book.  I made it with pumpkin, a perfect fall bread.  The bread was a little difficult to tear in half, but the real difficulty came when breaking off pieces for people.  Growing up, I always had wafers.  The whole tear-off-bread-while-people-wait was new to me.  And after mixing that with a dense bread, there were crumbs everywhere on the floor!  Thankfully our church regularly declares that communion is messy - you will bump into other people - there will be crumbs.  Many people were thankfully goodhearted over the bread - they had no idea what to expect from a wheat free bread - but I knew that there was a better fit out there.

I was determined to find a recipe that worked.  As much as I love the idea of everyone sharing one loaf, the cost and difficulty for me to make a loaf a week was too much. I searched the Internet until I found a recipe that met my needs.  Brittany Angell of has a super easy gluten free and vegan quick bread formula.  She says it has endless flavor possibilities and she is right!  The formula was there, I just followed it with foods that worked for me and my needs and out came communion bread!  The below recipe is top eight allergen free (wheat free, dairy free, soy free, egg free, tree nut free, peanut free, shellfish free, fish free) and vegan.  Surprisingly, the most challenging allergen for me to avoid was soy.  All of my cooking sprays had soy and I needed the dough to actually leave the pan in one piece.  A quick snip of parchment paper to line the loaf pan did the trick!

The recipe below makes four loaves of bread, perfect for a month of communion.  The bread freezes exceptionally well.  Before baking, I always switch over to clean kitchen towels and make sure there are no nuts or peanuts around (I already have a dedicated gluten and dairy free kitchen).  I bought my mini loaf pans from Michaels during an after Christmas sale.  They are exclusively used for communion bread.  I make sure when I run my dishwasher that no peanut or nut dishes are in the same load, for extra precaution.

The bread itself is quite tasty and breaks apart easily and does not crumble to pieces when dipped in grape juice.  I've enjoyed it outside of church, too!

The mini loaves are at the Urban Village Andersonville location whenever I am there. (1602 W Ainslie St at 10:30am on Sundays)  Other Sundays, they use wafers from Ener-G.  I've previously made Namaste Food's sugar free muffin mix for communion as well with great results.

Gluten Free, Top 8 Allergen Free, Vegan Communion Bread

Makes enough communion bread for 4 weeks.

2 cups gluten free all purpose flour (I use Bob's Red Mill GF All Purpose Baking Flour)
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t of xanthan gum or guar gum
3/4 c sugar

1/3 c vegetable oil
3/4 c of rice milk or coconut milk + 1 t apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 c unsweetened applesauce
1 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 330 degrees.  Line four mini loaf pans with parchment paper.
Whisk together all the dry ingredients.
Add in the wet ingredients and mix with a hand mixer.
Pour in the mini loaf pans and bake for 35-45 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean).
Let rest in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Once completely cool, individually wrap the loaves in tin foil and place in a freezer bag, squeezing all the air out first, then storing in the freezer.

To defrost:
The night before, take a mini loaf from the freezer and store in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic container or bag.  In the morning, move from the refrigerator to the counter.  The loaf will be perfect in time for service!  (Assuming about 2 hours passes from rolling out of bed and communion time.)

Some tips on avoiding cross contamination when handling gluten free communion:

  • The standard definition for gluten free is less than 20 parts per million.  Imagine a million grains of rice.  Now imagine that 20 of them are red.  How tiny is that amount!
  • Do not handle wheat bread and then handle gf bread!  Make sure your hands are clean (I'm a huge fan of soap and water - it gets any residual crumbs off the hands).
  • Have a dedicated gf cup and plate.  It is especially helpful to have separate storage containers and towels.
  • If your church literally breaks bread (tears it in half), keep the gf elements out of the "crumb zone".
  • When serving, offer the plate to the recipient and have them tear off their own piece.
  • Everyone's sensitivities are different.  Just because one person who is gluten free since it helps them feel great does not have an issue with cross contamination does not mean that the next person has the same sensitivity level.  Err on the side of caution: always assume a super sensitive person.
  • Now for the hardest one: if despite best intentions, something went wrong and the gf communion was cross contaminated: say something.  Example: someone dips wheat bread in the gf cup.  Not safe for those who need a gf diet.  I'd rather have someone say "no, you can't have that" rather than go home, feel sick, take a nap and take the next day off of work because I'm mysteriously sick.  (It has happened: all of my sick days this past year occurred on Monday after Sunday reactions.)
Every week, I've turned around and caught glances of strangers taking part in the communion celebration with the gluten free loaf.  It seems like every week, one or two new faces try the loaf, and not just because they are curious about gluten free breads!  One thing that brings me great joy is nourishing others through food.  To see so many people being able to participate in something that was previously forbidden due to dietary restrictions really fills me up with such happiness.  This is my contribution to bringing our church community together and growing even stronger as we move through the journey together.

Two great entries from a gf pastor's perspective at GlutenFreeJesusFreak include what to offer for communion and a few different ways of offering gf communion

What does your church do?  Do you have any more tips to add on serving gf communion?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bakery on Main truebar

I wish I had the free time to make my own snack bars from scratch, combining a blend of tasty foods to create a healthy snack worth eating as an afternoon pick-me-up, but the reality is that I work.  A lot.  I barely see my kitchen and in the past year, I cooked snack bars twice.  Way to go, gluten and dairy free blogger, way to go.

Thankfully, several companies understand my dilemma and have created bars that I probably cannot top with a homemade version.  In high school, I religiously ate a granola or another protein-packed power bar at least once a day in a desperate attempt to gain weight.  A decade later, I'm still on the lookout for a great tasting bar for a calorie boost.  I've become a connoisseur of snack bars.

Bakery on Main recently debuted six gluten free and casein and dairy free (and non GMO) truebars.  (Note: all six contain nuts and soy and made in the same facility that processes peanuts.)  They were kind enough to send me all six to sample.  I stashed them in my desk drawer at work and munched my way through the bars each day.

I've had several different gluten free bars, but most were bland or horrible tasting and/or the crunch factor made it difficult to chew.  I don't want my snack bar breaking my teeth!  Thankfully, all the truebars had a soft texture but it was disappointing to only be a few bites away from finishing.  I want more bar!! But with 150-190 calories per bar, the truebars were a welcome calorie boost to my afternoon.

The Hazelnut Chocolate Cherry Bar was hands-down my favorite.  It sounds silly, but to me it tasted like Christmas.  (Maybe having hazelnuts for the first time ever this Christmas has something to do with it...)  Since I'm turned off by anything coffee-flavored or even named, I probably would not have the Walnut Cappuccino Bar again (although I cannot find where the cappuccino flavor comes from despite reading the ingredient list a dozen times).  All of the bars were wildly different in terms of texture and flavor, which I appreciated.  It's not just "swap out this nut/fruit/chocolate for that one" - the flavors in each bar compliment one another really nicely. Bravo!

For me a product is a winner if it is convenient, cost effective, better than I can make on my own, and something I would spend my hard earned money on.  I also don't want to eat something that tastes gluten and dairy free.  The truebars are so flavorful, nothing tastes like it is missing! At $1.99 a bar (or the lower introductory price of $17.99 for a sleeve of a dozen), the price is on the higher end of what I like to pay, but still reasonable.  Bakery on Main is fantastic about providing coupons so I can almost always save money at the store.  The bars are great to store in a snack drawer at work, in a backpack, or lunch box.  I always carry at least one bar in my bag and the truebar would be great for a snack on the go.  Worth buying?  I think so!  I loved them!  There are lots of different flavors to choose from - you are sure to find a favorite!

Have you tried the truebars yet?  What's your favorite?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Two Fat Guys Barbecue Sauce

Throughout my almost two years being gluten free, my dad has told me about and purchased for me to consume later exactly one gluten free product.  Don't get me wrong, he makes sure that I always have more than enough gluten free foods and crackers and dairy alternatives at his house.  But only once have I gotten a "Hey, I think you should try this! I like it and it is gluten free!" food from him - Two Fat Guy's gourmet barbecue sauce.  Their flavors are Milk, Smoky, Spicy, and Lava Hot.  Since I come from a family of gringo stomachs (we tend to love plain, white people food), mild is as hot as we get.

At the gluten free expo, I met the legendary Two Fat Guys.  My dad normally sees them (and buys plenty of jars) at the Kane County flea markets, but their products are available in stores and online as well.  At the Gluten Free Expo, I was fortunate to receive a jar of the mild sauce to play with in the kitchen.  The ingredients are simple enough - I can pronounce everything - including the ever important "gluten free beer"!  The sauces are gluten free, high fructose corn syrup free, fat free, and cholesterol free.  The mild does contain honey, so it is not vegan.

As for the taste?  A heck of a lot better than the barbecue sauce I make!  It is full of flavor and I embarrassingly found myself licking my plate clean.

The website for Two Fat Guys has some recipes to try, but that day I was craving meatballs.  Google searching kept pointing me to using frozen meatballs in a crockpot with some store bought barbecue sauce, but frozen meatballs are out.  Homemade is always better, especially when considering all the wheat and dairy fillers in traditional meatballs and the over priced allergen friendly options.  I made a few variations to my default meatball recipe and doubled it up.  I had more than enough to eat, so froze the leftovers for easy lunches in the future.

The Two Fat Guys Barbecue Sauce plus one skinny gluten free foodie translates into: Inner Fat Chick's Meatballs!  These are sweet, flavorful and difficult to resist!

Inner Fat Chick's Barbecue Sauce Meatballs

1 cup of finely crushed gf crackers (I used Crunchmaster's multi-grain crackers)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup water
1 small onion, finely diced
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs of 80% lean ground beef
1 18oz jar of Two Fat Guy's barbecue sauce (I used mild)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the crackers, Worcestershire sauce, water, onion, eggs, salt and pepper together with a fork.  Then (with very clean hands) add in the ground beef and roll into meatballs.
Place meatballs in a 9x13 pan.
Pour 1 jar of Two Fat Guy's barbecue sauce over meatballs, making sure the meatballs are coated with the sauce.

Cook (uncovered) until no longer pink in the center, about 25 minutes or so.

Enjoy as an easy appetizer (just add a toothpick to each meatball), with a side salad, with rice noodles, with mashed potatoes, or simply on their own!  These freeze and defrost exceptionally well.