Friday, April 30, 2010
So now we're doing this gluten-free experiment. That changes everything. We now have to find a gluten-free pasta that we like.
I decided to try this brown rice pasta I found at Whole Foods. I always think of rice as being lighter than regular pasta, so I was a little surprised to find that rice pasta has more calories per serving than regular semolina pasta. Emily did say in a previous comment that rice flour is heavier than wheat flour. Who knew?
The jury may still be out on the connection between Meniere's and gluten, but if there is one thing that is certain, Meniere's suffererers have to keep their diets very low in sodium. This is an even bigger challenge than the gluten one. Sodium hides EVERYWHERE, particularly in packaged foods. I's worse than HFCS. Tomatoes can also have a pretty high sodium content.
1/4 serving of these tomatoes has over 100 mg of sodium, which isn't high, but who eats only a quarter cup? I did the best I could, flavoring my sauce with onions, garlic,and fresh basil. Some white wine would have been good too, but since hubby can't have alcohol anymore, I'm even less likely to have it in the house these days.
Then there is the meatball issue. I'm not fond of turkey meatballs. I like nice, hearty beefy ones, which SPP can't eat. To make them better, I have to put all kinds of flavoring in them. One of those flavors is parmesan. Well, I can't use too much of that. It's very high in salt.
I thought of Giada DeLaurentis and her fondness for ketchup in meatballs. Ketchup is high in salt (and sugar), but what if I used just some plain tomato paste with lots of garlic and parsley?
This has to be one of the worst food photos I have ever taken, but the pasta itself wasn't too bad. Package directions said to rinse it with cold water after cooking for best texture, which is something I would never do normally. Flavor was a bit blander, and the texture a bit chewier, but all in all, it wasn't terribly different from regular pasta. I will definitely use this pasta again in the future.
Meatballs were made with gluten-free bread crumbs and I thought they were a bit mealy, but SPP wasn't so picky and really liked them.
1 Tbl olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 onion, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 Tbl tomato paste
1 good handful fresh basil
1/4 tsp salt
Few grinds black pepper
Heat olive oil in a large pan. Sprinkle red pepper flakes to allow flavor to diffuse in the oil. Add onion and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes. In the last 10 minutes of cooking add basil. Sprinkle in salt and pepper.
1-2 pounds ground turkey
2 Tbl chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
2 Tbl tomato paste
4-5 cloves of garlic, put through a press
Heat oven to 350. Mix tomato paste, parsley, garlic and breadcrumbs. Taste to make sure you like the level of flavor. Add Turkey and egg.
Roll into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Drop into tomato sauce and simmer in sauce at least another 10 minutes.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Years ago he went to see a gastroenterologist who suggested he might have a problem with wheat. He took that to heart for a little while. He tried avoiding bread. We weren't married then, so I took him to the Trader Joe's in my neighborhood so he could buy the gluten-free pastas that weren't available in Forest Hills. (Yes, he actually cooked in his own kitchen before he met me.) It lasted a little while, but not long enough.
A couple of years ago I was reading an article on celiac disease and found it very enlightening. I looked at the long list of symptoms. Kevin seemed to suffer from most of them. Every single thing that has ever been wrong with him could probably be linked to gluten intolerance. I told him he should find out what tests are available for it and take them. He brushed it off. I don't blame him for not wanting to know. He's lived with these symptoms for years. He could continue to tolerate them and life would be that much easier. He could order a sandwich at the local deli and buy a cookie at any store or bakery without any fuss or special orders. A gluten-free lifestyle is hard. The man never met a starch he didn't like.
Then he was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease. It's an incurable condition that affects his hearing and sometimes his equilibrium. The doctors recommended a low-sodium diet, but there wasn't much else he could do - or could he?
I had been neglecting reading one of my favorite dessert porn blogs for a while. One day I decided to catch up with it and discovered that its author was another Meniere's sufferer. She was alleviating the problem not just with lowering her sodium intake, but also by reducing the gluten. I started looking this up on the web and found there is a connection with gluten intolerance and Meniere's.
Since then I have tried to cut back on gluten products in my kitchen. You may notice that some of my older posts showed meals with very traditional protein-veggie-starch components. Now I tend to just do a protein and a vegetable. I do make pasta, as he loves it so, but he also loves gluten-free potatoes, so that's a common starch for us. Unfortunately, we still eat a lot of bread on weekends as we are usually eating lunch on the road and sandwiches tend to be the easiest lunch.
He was having some really bad attacks of vertigo this week and I realized that it was time to take action. Maybe cutting the gluten isn't going to help, but it's time we found out. Maybe if he finds he really feels better without gluten, it will be easier to continue on a gluten-free path.
He said he would be afraid of it coming down to nuts and berries as his diet is limited already (remember he's lactose intolerant too), but I don't think it has to be. First, if we stick to fresh whole foods, we're likely to avoid a lot of gluten-added products. Second, he can still eat the proteins and vegetables he already eats. Third, there are plenty of gluten-free alternatives out there. We can buy commercially-made pasta and baked goods. I can bake with alternative flours. It may be a bit tough on the road, but if we plan well and learn to make choices, we can do it. Again, if he really feels better, it may be worth the trouble.
I don't have to follow a gluten-free diet, but I am trying to stand in solidarity with him. I could use a little cutback on the starches anyway. I can find all sorts of recipes online. I've been a fan of Simply Gluten Free for a while now as it's an entertaining blog with great recipes that I know my husband will adore.
So how are those gluten-free alternatives? Let's start with waffles.
I have wanted a waffle iron for years. I adore waffles. I always envied bloggers who were always cooking up creative waffles.
I finally received one for Christmas. As fate would have it, the gift came from my uncle and his wife who did not attend Christmas dinner. I didn't see them until Easter, which meant Easter was when I finally had my Christmas waffle iron in my hands. Here I am on the brink of going gluten-free and I finally have my waffle iron.
Never fear. There is such a thing as gluten-free waffles. I intend to find every gluten-free waffle recipe out there. In the mean time I decided to christen my waffle iron with this.
This has to be the most politically correct waffle mix out there. It contains no gluten and the recipe to make it uses no eggs and suggests rice milk as your liquid. Rice milk is a staple in our household as it is Kevin's preferred form of milk. The whole thing seemed bland, so I decided to make chocolate waffles by adding a 1/4 cup of cocao powder to the mix. I also added a splash of vanilla extract.
The resulting waffles weren't too bad. Taste-wise they could be richer. Texture-wise they were reasonably waffle-y, but not quite what I had hoped for. I served them with raspberry sauce on the side.
I am going to start buying alternative flours and researching some gluten-free waffle recipes for the future. I'm heading into a brave new world.
Monday, April 19, 2010
The recipe came from Spork or Foon. It's a simple combination of tagliatelle, white truffle oil, cheese, and mushrooms and topped with a poached egg. The idea was that the egg on top would give a carbonara-like texture to the pasta without the fuss of timing the mixing of your raw eggs into the dish properly (or cheating and using cream). It was a radical change from my usual pasta dishes, and it would dirty far fewer dishes than spaghetti and meatballs would - a plus on a casual Friday night.
I stuck to the recipe for the most part. I tossed cooked tagliatelle with white truffle oil and parmesan. I didn't just sprinkle the truffle-like shavings of portobello mushrooms on top. I mixed them in with the oil and the cheese.
I made one other change to my portion of the dish as well.
I added some prosciutto that I crisped in a pan and crumbled on top. This recipe is supposed to be carbonara-like after all and carbonara REQUIRES PORK (unless you're my husband).
Anyway, on to a new week, and a more original recipe.
Have you noticed lately that tacos have become upscale?
Tacos were my first introduction to "Mexican" food. I remember as a small child loving those taco kits where you had seasoned ground beef (seasoned via the enclosed packet) in a hard shell that always broke and decorated your shirt when you bit into it. As I grew older I discovered Tex-Mex restaurants and learned about burritos and chimichangas and nachos. Tacos seemed somewhat pedestrian - unless they were tacos de conchita pibil that were a staple at most local Mexican restaurants. I had a recipe from one of my beloved Frugal Gourmet cookbooks that used a ropa-vieja-like beef recipe wrapped in a flour tortilla, but it bore little resemblance to what I thought of as tacos (which I suppose was Jeff Smith's point).
Now it seems like tacos are everywhere. They're not the crunchy things from a kit that I grew up with. They're not the bulky tortilla-encased cooking experiment from former PBS stars. These are fresh and light creations, using just a few simple ingredients, wrapped in a corn tortilla - and yes, they are Mexican.
These days tacos are everywhere. There are taco trucks in every city. Little mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall taco joints are cropping up in my neighborhood and other nearby communities. Tacos aren't just pile of seasoned group beef with iceberg lettuce and bottled salsa, but now also contain chorizo, pork, tongue, and in the case of one restaurant I know of in the city, grasshoppers.
This month both food magazines I subscribe to, Eating Well and Food and Wine both had taco recipes in them.
Combine that with certain blogs that keep the taco craving going (when she's not making me crave pie), I was really thinking I needed some tacos, fast. I was originally going to make my chipotle chicken and pinto bean tacos, but I decided I needed a change.
I thought pork tacos* would be a nice idea with chunks of avocado and tomato. The key would be how I would season them. I thought citrus juice would be tasty with maybe some red onion and cilantro.
There was just one problem. When I arrived at the store, I found no cilantro! I didn't know what else to use. Then I spotted some greenery in the produce case.
I went a little crazy and bought some mint. I love fresh mint. I combined it with red onion, a jalapeno pepper, fresh orange juice, and fresh lime juice. I used some of this to marinate my pork and the rest I used as a dressing for my tomato and avocado.
The suckers would not stay closed for the photo! They were delicious though.
Slightly Loco Tacos
1 pound pork loin, cut into small chunks
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 2 lemons
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 tsp orange zest
2 Tbl chopped fresh mint
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 avocado, diced
Combine juices, zest, onion, pepper, mint, salt and oil. Reserve 1/2 cup. Place pork chunks in remaining marinade and let sit for an hour in the refrigerator.
Take a dance break. Your tap teacher will thank you.
Remove pork from marinade, place in a pan, cook the pork chunks for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.
Mix avocado and tomato with remaining 1/2 cup of dressing. Mix in cooked pork.
Warm the tortillas in the microwave for about 15 seconds each. Place the pork mixture in as many tortillas as you can stuff into your face, roll up and enjoy!
*So this is where you ask, "What about Sir Pickypants?" For him I reserved another 2 Tbl of the dressing and tossed it with some thawed frozen, pre-cooked shrimp in a pan just to warm them a bit. The shrimp were mixed with the tomato mixture.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Well, what do you know! It's been sticking around. Other than a few cold days here and there, It's been pretty nice outside since Easter. Can it last?
Well, "April is the cruelest month..."
At least the signs of spring are coming with the produce. The spring onions, one of the most beautiful veggies out there, have made it to the market.
I counteracted those days of rain and chill by making them into a nice soup.
No recipe needed.
Saute sliced spring onion in butter. Then add broccoli, chopped up small.
Put in a quart of chicken stock and simmer till veggies are tender.
Process in a food processor or with a stick blender and then add a cup of heavy cream.
I also added some chopped up leftover Easter ham.
Later in the week I decided to take a comfort classic and "spring it up" a bit. .
I drew my inspiration from Kevin of Closet Cooking (this Kevin is no Pickypants). He suggested a sauce of apricot jam and mustard for the Easter ham.
I love using apricot-based sauce on my chicken, but I tend to go with a more Asian theme and mix my jam with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sriracha (Frank's is good in it too). CC had me thinking a little sweeter, a little milder, a little more spring-like.
Again, this doesn't need a recipe.
I mixed a sauce of:
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 Tbl dijon mustard
1 Tbl white balsamic vinegar
I removed the backbone of the chicken and flattened it ou, sprinkled it with salt and peppers and laid it on top of a bed of more of those spring onions. Then I spread a good amount of the mixture over the chicken.
I stuck it in the oven at 350 for an hour.
While it roasted, I mixed the remaining glaze with some chicken broth and brought it to a boil. When I had it at the right consistency, it made a nice sauce for the side of the chicken.
I think 45 minutes was all I really needed to roast this for, as you can see the sweet glaze was a little burnt. The chicken wasn't dried out though. But definitely don't roast your chicken as long as I roasted mine.
On the side are string beans that I blanched and sauteed with more spring onions and mushrooms. Very nice spring meal indeed.
Monday, April 5, 2010
I always have certain expectations about Easter. I believe Easter is the ultimate spring holiday, and so I want Easter to embody the season. I want flowers blooming and the sun shining, and balmy air.
There is just a slight problem. Spring doesn't exist in New York. Sure it exsits on the calendar, but all of the things we associate with spring - sunshine, balmy weather, trees and flowers blooming - are few and far between. In general, a NY spring consists of lots of rain and lots of cloudy, chilly days. Sure we do get a few days where the temps hit the 60s and 70s and the sun shines, but they tend to tucked in between those damp cold days. Occasionally we get hiccups of ridiculously hot days as well. Then it all turns to summer overnight and it's hot and humid for the next two months.
I have three particular memories of Easter weather.
The first is just a vague one from when I was 5 or 6. The temperatures soared to 80 degrees that Easter. I can remember walking out onto my grandmother's back porch in a light summer dress, enjoying the warmth. I feel like that set the standard for what Easter should feel like to me.
Then there was the Easter when I was 11. My mother took my brother and me to the Poconos with some of her friends. It had snowed really badly that week. At the time the resort had horses, but there was no riding that weekend! I remember slogging through the wet, muddy snow to go pet them in their paddock. At least there was an indoor pool and a nearby store that sold handmade chocolate for Easter.
Then there was the first Easter I ever hosted a few years ago. It was a perfect spring day. Unfortunately I spent most of it in the kitchen. After everything was eaten and the cleanup done, everyone had left. Even Kevin left to drive his mother back to Queens. I went for a walk around the harbor. It was a beautiful day, but it was so lonely! I wished my family had stuck around after dinner to enjoy the beautiful day with me and we could have all played frisbee in the park or something.
What did we get for this year? It seems we got the perfect day. The sun shone and the temps were balmy. Mom scheduled an evening dinner at her place rather than a brunch or midday dinner because my brother had taken his kids to Florida for spring break and would not be returning until Easter evening. I got my pie baking out of the way the day before, so I had a whole day to get out and enjoy the day with my favorite guy and my favorite girls.
Once we got to Mom's place in the early evening, the kids were all enjoying a beautiful spring day as well.
Of course once we were ready for Easter dinner, I was ready with my PIES.
The world is always more beautiful when there is pie to be had.
Here they are completed and ready to be eaten: Oreo-Peanut-Butter Chiffon Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, and Italian Easter Pie.
They all came out delicious. Whatever worries I had about overprocessing the pie dough on the coconut pie were unfounded. The crust was delicious - tender and buttery (even if it wasn't the prettiest pie crust ever). All three pies were a big hit.
What other foods did we enjoy? (Courtesy of Mom)
We had ham, goat-cheese and vegetable strata, vegetables roasted with pesto, broccoli rabe, Easter bread, and cheese bread.
Now for the PB Pie Recipe
Peanut-Butter Oreo Pie
15 Oreos (or other chocolate sandwich cookie), processed into crumbs
4 Tbl butter, melted
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup water
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
10 Oreos, chopped into pieces
Whole Oreos for garnish
Place cookie bits in the freezer. They'll stay firmer and easier to work with that way.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix crumbs and butter together and gently press into 9" pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes, or until firm.
In a small bowl sprinkle gelatin over water and set aside to soften.
Whis the egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, peanut butter and milk in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture just reaches a simmer and thickens a bit. Remove from heat and add the gelatin, stirring until dissolved. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate about an hour until cooled and it mounds when you drop it from a spoon.
Whip the cream until stiff. In another bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Fold the whites and the cream into the peanut butter gelatin mixture until blended. Gently fold in the cookie pieces.
Place in the pie crust and chill several more hours. Garnish with whole cookies if desired (or whipped cream or BOTH).
Saturday, April 3, 2010
I'm baking three pies for Easter. I'm baking a coconut cream pie, a peanut butter-oero chiffon pie, and of course, an Italian Easter Pie (pizza rustica if you must).
First pie of the day is the coconut cream as it's the most time-consuming. The recipe comes from Elaine Corn's book Gooey Desserts, the best dessert cookbook ever. I believe it's out of print though.
The problem is it completely fell apart when I put it in the plate. I've been known to completely patch together a crust in the plate when it refuses to be cohesive, but this defied even patching. I'm not sure what was wrong. I've made this crust recipe many times. I became frustrated enough to just mush it all back together and re-roll it. I knew this would sacrifice texture, but I just couldn't get it together the way it was. It still wouldn't stay together. I ended up growing really frustrated, scrapping the dough and starting over.
My next round was only slightly more successful. I did something that Corn advises in her book, but no other pastry chef ever says is okay. When I added the water to the dough in the food processor, I pulsed the dough until it formed a ball on its own instead of forming it into a ball myself. I knew this would sacrifice texture too, but at this point, I didn't care. I was making this pie for my family, not judges at the state fair. My delicious coconut filling was supposed to be the star, not the crust.
I pierced that sucker like crazy and weighted it down with every dried starch in my pantry. I was not going to stand for any shrinkage. (Huh huh. I said shrinkage.)
Could be worse. I painted the inside of the crust with melted chocolate to keep the bottom from becoming soggy and to add a little extra treat to the taste.
Filling is the best coconut filling ever. You mix the milk in the custard with coconut milk and rum. Then you fold in whipped cream and grated coconut.
The recipe calls for a meringue topping. In the past I always skipped that and used whipped cream. I'm beginning to realize that's a waste since the custard uses 5 egg yolks. I need to do something with the whites.
You will have to wait for the next blog to see the pie properly topped.
I paused for lunch. I ate Beth's leftover mac and cheese from last night. I decided to enhance it with a few good shakes of sriracha. Thanks to Emily's stint on the Ultimate Recipe Showdown, I really was craving some hot sauce in my mac and cheese.
On to the next pie. Get started on the Peanut-Butter-Oreo pie. This is a pie of my own devising that adapts a Williams Sonoma chiffon pie recipe to be a bit more fun.
Start with a basic crumb crust of Oreo cookies and butter. So much easier than rolling out pastry dough!
Peanut butter is mixed with milk,sugar, and eggs and simmered into a custard. Then came some softened gelatin.
Duckie, this one's for you.
I whipped cream and egg whites and then folded into the peanut-butter Jello. Then pieces of cookie that I had been keeping firm in the freezer were folded in. Garnish the top with whole cookies and you're good to go.
Our last pie is the Italian Easter Pie (Pizza Rustica if you must). This is the recipe my BFF rescued for me a couple of years ago.
I cut up three kinds of meat.
The meat is tossed with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and eggs. The original recipe doesn't call for parmesan, but I added it instead of salt. I like the pop of flavor it gives.
The bread-like crust seals the whole thing in. I use an old-fashioned Corning Ware dish like the kind every family has tucked away somewhere.
More on the pies after Easter.
My day started with lunch. I met Sue at Gallo Nero on 44th and 9th. We were trying to choose a restaurant where neither of us had eaten before and was located in midtown. One of the reasons I suggested Gallo Nero because Menupages listed it as a place with outdoor seating (the wine list didn't hurt either) and we were expecting a beautiful spring day.
It turned out to be a perfectly charming spot inside and out. The seating was not really outdoors though. It just had garage doors that were fully opened so it gave the feel of an open-air restaurant, as many restaurants in NYC do these days.
Sue and I settled in with glasses of proseco and lots and lots of good conversation. There is a reason we enjoy each other's company so much. We're both really good talkers! We talked about everything from marriage, to crazy friends, to crazy family, to my upcoming trips to Wyoming and Paris this year (I was very eager to pick her brain about Paris since I've never been there before).
The menu had a very tempting list of bruschette and crostini. We considered splitting two orders, but decided to stick with one so we wouldn't stuff ourselves too much (you'll find out why this was important in a few minutes). That's a good thing. Our "crostini" were more like a small pizza! We had beautifully grilled and crispy squares of bread with gooey melted fontina, crispy bits of prosciutto (yes, I'm Catholic, haven't been to church in years), and nice chunks of tomato.
The entree offerings were simple Italian classics. Sue went for gnocchi. I opted for a grilled lemon chicken breast topped with tomato and arugula. My chicken was nice and moist and delicately flavored. It perfectly suited my desire for a lighter entree. I took a taste of Sue's gnocchi, which she felt were undersalted, but they were nice and light and came in a very delicious sauce.
We forgot to take a photo of the tiramisu` we split until we were down to the last bite. I guess we were too excited to pause before diving in and enjoyed it too much to remember the cameras.
Service was not always on the ball. Our server had horrible timing. We took a long time to decide what to order and he came over 3 times while we decided. Once we had decided, he made himself scarce! That seemed to be the theme of the day. On the good side, they allowed us our leisurely lunch. We met at 1:30 and didn't leave until 4!
Parting is such sweet sorrow, but I still had some fun laid out for the evening. My father and stepmother had secured tickets for Love, Loss, and What I Wore for the evening. We all met up with the hubby for a pre-show dinner. Our restaurant of choice was...RACHEL'S! Yep, NYC is home to a namesake restaurant.
It's a cute place, but it's rather small and cramped. I didnt' take any photos of the interior because you sit in rather close proximity to other diners and I felt it would be a bit too intrusive.
Sue's gnocchi had me craving pasta, and Rachel's, a restaurant that boasts of comfort foods, had several tempting options. I chose ravioli stuffed with sausage and pepper in a tomato cream sauce. There was a nice spicy bite to these and the sauce was good too. It was unfortunate that these were a special. They deserve a place on the regular menu. There weren't too many on the plate too, which is good since I wasn't terribly hungry after lunch. The dish was fortunately not as heavy as it could have been.
My stepmother ordered the macaroni and cheese. I was so tempted to order it even though I didn't have the stomach for it that evening. It was crusted with panko and macadamia nuts. She couldn't finish it, so she sent her leftovers home with me.
For dessert Kevin and I split a strawberry shortcake. I figured that I had half a dessert at lunch, I could have half a dessert at dinner and then say that I had only eaten one dessert that day. ;-) Tasty, but to me, real strawberry shortcake is make with biscuits and not cake layers. It was a very nice strawberry cake, but it wasn't "shortcake".
The play was excellent (Dad and Kevin saw another, manlier play) and I went home late in the evening with a full belly and a big smile. I could not have asked for a better Good Friday!