Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope your Thanksgiving was a blast. Ours was quiet, peaceful and yummy. I don't have any photos so I put one up from my recent trip to New Orleans to visit my sister. It was just after Halloween so there were still some great decorations up, and characters galore. Had a great time... but since I ate everything at Thanksgiving, no food photos today... And boy was it good. Daughter and I stuck to a vegetarian holiday and made a Quorn roast, but the carnivores in the group just couldn't go without the turkey. Mom brought one over that she cooked that morning. Not a problem for me, they ate it then took the leftovers home. No carcass in my fridge, yippee!

Dinner was a great stuffing from mom made from GF cornbread, GF challah from Gluten Free Creations, apricots and apples. Also on tap... mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, roasted veggies, and GF mushroom gravy. Daughter made a brilliant GF flourless chocolate cake that was divine.

About the Quorn roast, if you haven't heard of it. It's made mainly of a microprotein grown somewhat like a mushroom of sorts. Check it out online and find out about it as some people with mushroom allergies may be allergic to this also. But for me it's just wonderful. The roast (the only GF Quorn product since the others are breaded) tastes so much like turkey it's great. With all the extras you don't feel deprived at all (although even without a substitute Thanksgiving is great.) My daughter ate most of the roast and kept going back for more. It's full of protein (14 grams per serving) and low in carbs, (just 8 per serving), so I love eating it on my current low-carb/high-protein quest. I've also made "chicken" salad with it, but it's best when served just out of the oven with gravy.

Hope your day was wonderful. Enjoy the wonderful winter weather, we're even having rain here in AZ.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tofu Parmigiana

I've been missing eggplant parmigiana for awhile now. I know I can make it without the breading and it's still pretty good, but it's just not there. Being a vegetarian, I can't just use chicken, etc. so that leaves a dilemma I have finally solved. What about using tofu? Yes, I know you're going to say that I use tofu in everything, and I probably do. But luckily, I love it! And there are so many ways to use and enjoy it. And using the very firm tofu products gives it a great "meaty" texture.

This meal was something I decided to try since I had everything in the fridge, what the heck. Daughter and I scarfed it up last night and made it again for lunch today, so you know it was a hit. We spent the afternoon on a simulated archeological dig, then came home and set to cooking a feast in 10 minutes. What fun, I love homeschooling!

Tofu Parmigiana
It all depends on how much you want to make, but it's just so easy. I use Wild Wood High-protein, super-firm tofu that I found at WholeFoods. It has a great flavor and crisps up great in the pan.

Slice the tofu into 1/4-inch squares and dust with a mixture of sweet rice flour, garlic powder, salt and dried basil. I put just a pinch of each, but use whatever you desire for flavor. After coating both sides, drop gently into a hot pan with olive oil. Fry each side on medium heat until brown on each side. Then just spoon tomato sauce (we used leftover sauce, but any sauce will do) over the top of all the squares. Now top those with slices of fresh mozzarella and a little more basil. (I love fresh mozzarella from Trader Joe's.) Turn the heat off and cover the pan for just a moment so the cheese melts. Viola--all done. Quick and tasty.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Crispy Tofu and Squash

While trying to limit carbs, I'm also trying to improve taste. That's not easy being on a gluten-free, vegetarian, mostly dairy-free diet. Making that low carb can put a crimp in what's left to eat. But I'm learning to adapt. Last night I decided to stir fry up some tofu and some beautiful baby zucchini from Trader Joe's. Yum. My daughter decided she wanted fried rice, so we combined the two for a wonderful two-way dinner.

Using a little nutritional yeast is the key. It gives flavor and crispiness to the tofu. Don't be afraid of it, I had never heard of it before last year and I was pretty nervous about trying it, but it's really great. I found it in the bulk section of Whole Foods. You only need a small handful to last a long time.

Crispy Tofu and Squash
8 oz. Extra firm tofu
1 tsp nutritional yeast flakes
7 baby zucchini
1 yellow squash, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
1.5 cups Jasmine rice
splash of wheat-free tamari
splash of sesame oil

Take about one cup of cubed firm tofu, drained and pressed to get out most of the liquid. Let that sit and drain while cutting the baby zucchini and yellow squash in small pieces. Stir fry squash and zucchini in a little olive oil and wheat-free tamari. Add a few tablespoons of water to steam after a few moments, then let them brown for a moment.

Take out zucchini, add olive oil to the pan and add tofu (I like to add a little butter also, it helps to brown the tofu). Sprinkle tofu with about 1 teaspoon of nutritional yeast. Stir fry until tofu gets crispy and browned on all sides. It doesn't take long, shake the pan often to loosen tofu and brown it.

When tofu is done, add zucchini to the pan. At this point, I add a little garlic and salt and I'm good to go. Daughter wanted her rice, so to the pan (after I had taken my half out) we added two scrambled egg whites (or whole eggs) cooked earlier and broken into small pieces and one and a half cups of jasmine rice, precooked (Trader Joe's). Stir fry this for a few moments, adding a little more tamari and a small splash of sesame oil.

Tofu with added rice and eggs

Either way, it's beautiful. Without the rice, this is a high-protein meal with low carbs. You can also add the eggs in with the tofu and zucchini for an even bigger protein boost. With the rice, it's a great, filling meal with lots of protein and veggies.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mediterranean Stew over Broiled Polenta

I'm trying to eat less and less "GF" grains. By that I mean that I am trying to cut down on fake bread, muffins, bagels, cakes, cupcakes, etc. that are GF versions of the real thing. I feel much better and I've got a much happier tummy. But already being vegetarian means that leaves even a smaller list of options. But I've decided that I'm going to cook more chickpeas, tofu and such, and spend more time exploring veggies.

My first attempt was to make something I had made before, just add a few more ingredients. This Mediterranean stew has tofu, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, tomatoes and onions. A little of everything really, and so yummy. Add just the right spices, and serve over broiled polenta and you've got yourself a very tasty and satisfying meal. I know I did, and Older Daughter scarfed it down in just a few seconds flat.

Mediterranean Stew over Broiled Polenta

One sweet onion, chopped
One can of chickpeas
Two cans of diced tomatoes (organic, GF of course)
One sweet potato, diced
One cup firm tofu, drained, pressed and diced
cayenne pepper

In a very large saute pan, saute the onion over medium heat for about five minutes.

Add tomatoes and chickpeas and cook for a few minutes to bring it up to a simmer.

Add sweet potato, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until potato is tender.

Add tofu, salt, pepper, about 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp dried parsely and 1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper, according to your tastes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and turn off heat. Let mixture sit for about 5 minutes to warm tofu while polenta broils.

Slice polenta into 1/2 inch discs (I used Trader Joe's or Safeway's polenta with sun dried tomatoes). Turn broiler on high, put one small dot of olive oil on each disc and spread it around. This ensures the polenta won't burn under the broiler.

Place polenta under the broiler for about five minutes. I've got mine on the middle rack, not too close. Watch carefully, mine don't get brown, just sizzling.

Serve stew over polenta slices. I add a dash of cayenne on top for a kick, but that's up to you. Older Daughter likes a big, big dash of cayenne. To each his own. You can also serve this over rice, in a more traditional way. I've got leftovers and I'm out of polenta, so it looks like it might go over rice for lunch tomorrow. Even on it's own, it's great.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tofu Curry "Chickenless" Salad on a Lazy Saturday

Ever have one of those Saturdays when it's peaceful and relaxed and you just don't want to do anything? Well, today was my day. My husband is in Michigan for the weekend, oldest daughter is working and younger daughter has a friend over and is spending the day drawing quietly in her room with said friend (their choice, they love to draw. Today they're making their own deck of cards with index cards.)

So, I decided to lounge, read magazines, watch Dr. Who and House and read a good book... just sort of do nothing. Here's what happens when you read a book around here. I always thought cats did that. I never had a dog that did it, but there's a first time for everything.

Take some time to relax and be with yourself. If the opportunity arises to take time to be alone, do it. We don't always have to find something to do. Sometimes it's OK to do nothing, even if it's just for 20 minutes, or in my case today... All Day!

Lovely. But, what do you eat on a slow, relaxed day like this? For breakfast Daughter and I made Strawberry Crepes with her friend and the girls took a turn at cooking the crepes. They did a great job. Then carrots, celery and hummus for lunch. Then what to have for dinner? I was recently at Whole Foods and saw a "chicken" salad made with tofu in their deli section. Shouldn't be too hard, huh? So I improvised and came up with something fast and yummy, with very few ingredients.

Tofu Curry "Chickenless" Salad
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/3 cup GF mayo
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 cup diced very firm tofu, drained and pressed to get out all the moisture
1/2 cup chopped apple
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 tsp parsley (I used dried, but fresh would be even better)
salt to taste

Just mix the first three ingredients into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. You can serve on lettuce as a salad, or on toast as a sandwich or in a tomato bowl (remember those?) The longer it sits, the more the tofu will soak up the flavors of the dressing.

I had mine today on GF sandwich bread from GF Creations in Phoenix, and a few slices of tomato. I'm thinking I may stuff a tomato tomorrow with the leftovers, since all I had was a Roma tomato and it's hard to stuff those little guys.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Quick But Yummy Breakfast

We had an incredible storm the other night here in Phoenix, and we were without power for about 15 hours. I know this photo doesn't do the storm much justice. Daughter took it as we sat on the patio watching the storm pass over. I was afraid to open the fridge or freezer for fear of thawing everything out, and we ended up eating out as much as possible. I suppose we were lucky since some people are still without power and there were downed trees in their yard, or powerlines went down like dominoes. We didn't have any water damage, or wind, just the lack of power that made it pretty uncomfortable to sleep. As my sister awaits Gustov in New Orleans, I suppose I shouldn't complain.

Now that the power is back on and the plants are drying out, I'm starved. I couldn't decide what to eat for breakfast this morning, and didn't want to pull out pans and such. And even though I just love my old standby... Rice Chex with rice milk, I just wasn't in the mood.

I looked in the fridge and viola! breakfast was there. Just a little bit of both Fontina and goat cheese left over from a quiche for book club, and one Roma tomato. I just bought a loaf of GF sandwich bread from Gluten Free Creations, a local GF bakery.

I toasted the bread, placed sliced fontina on each slice (just enough for both left, yipee) and a little goat cheese. Putting the cheese immediately on the toasted bread lets it melt just so slightly, but not completely. Then top with slices of tomato. I added a little Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and there you have it. The Fontina and goat cheese give a great, salty texture and the tomato had a ripe, fruity flavor. I grabbed a few fresh basil leaves from the bush in the back yard, which added to the already wonderful flavors. The bread was toasted just enough to give a great crunch. Yum... what a great way to start the day.

BTW, what did Daughter eat, you may be asking? A chewy, yummy bagel from Einstein's with cream cheese. She loves to torture me with things I can no longer enjoy, but this time I know mine was much better and I didn't even want the bagel. Things are looking up!


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fridge Fried Rice

Here's a quick idea for a dinner on the fly. The other night Daughter and I were hungry, and didn't want to run to the store for anything. We decided to find something in the fridge. Half of a yellow squash, half of a sweet onion, and half of a tub of mushrooms. We found some frozen Jasmine rice in the freezer and of course had a few eggs in the fridge. Veggie fried rice it is!

This one was simple...chop everything up, saute in a little olive oil and garlic. Then when they were all cooked, add the rice (enough to fill the saute pan) and mix. Cook for a moment, then add some veggie broth. Let this simmer slowly till the broth is absorbed by the rice. Finally, add a little GF tamari and a scrambled egg chopped into little pieces (beautiful daughter did a great job with these. We like them well done so they don't fall apart.)

Serve with a salad and you've got a great dinner. If I had tofu in the fridge, which I usually do, I would have tossed that in also to add some protein. But, since I didn't, we just went with the fridge cleanout. Anything will do really, and it felt good to eat everything left in the bin before filling it up again at the farmer's market on Wednesday.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Confetti Pasta

While watching TV awhile ago, I saw a cooking show using lentils and pasta. Nice idea. I looked around and realized that I had bought some yellow lentils the other day, I just didn't have a plan for them. Now I did.

This dish came from part inspiration and part TV cooking show. Of course, it's GF, as always. But these days I'm trying to use more ingredients that are good for you with protein, vitamins, etc. I think it's important to try and eat as healthy as possible these days, why not give your body a boost? I looked in the fridge and came up with a plan, pasta with lentils, tomatoes, onions and greens. Not only would this be good for you, but it had to be tasty as well with all these good things.

One thing I learned from my friend Linda many years ago was to use bagged salad for other things. She made a wonderful pasta dish using just caramelized onions, leeks and a bag of mixed greens for salad. They add a great texture and flavor. And it's a quick thing to add to any pasta dish for a bit of color and pizazz.

The name Confetti Pasta came from my husband, who remarked how beautiful it was. He then ate a bowl of it and said it was the best thing I'd cooked for him. He gave it a 9 because, as he explained, if he gave it a 10 I would get a big head. Isn't he precious?

I love this dish because it's so beautiful, colorful and inviting. Of course, as always, feel free to improvise with anything else you have in the house. Add any veggies you want. It's already a rainbow of colors, adding zucchini or eggplant would just add to the colors, or even sun-dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers.

Confetti Pasta

1 bag TJ's brown rice penne
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 bunch of greens, chopped. I use 1/2 a bag of baby greens with arugula, spinach, etc.
3/4 cup yellow lentils
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chopped basil
1/2 cup veggie broth
1 1/2 cup water

1. Start water to boil for pasta. When water boils, cook as directed. Be careful with the penne, it tends to stick together when you first put it in the water. Make sure to salt the water well and stir for the first minute or so. I also add some olive oil to the water to make it less sticky.

2. Add lentils to water and broth in a separate pot and simmer for about 20 minutes. Check for doneness at 20 minutes and decide if you need more time. Also, keep some water handy in case you need to add more as the lentils cook.

3. Heat about 2 Tbs olive oil in a large (very large) skillet. Add onions and a pinch of salt and sweat (covered) for about 15 minutes, then cook uncovered over low heat for another 15 minutes until they begin to carmelize.

4. Add chopped tomatoes, garlic powder, basil and salt and pepper to onions. Let these cook over low heat while you wait for the pasta and lentils to finish.

5. Drain lentils and pour into onion, tomato mixture. Toss gently, careful not to break the lentils.

6. Drain pasta just at al dente. Rinse quickly with cold water (I find this keeps the GF pasta from getting mushy). Add pasta to pan with veggies and mix. Pan is getting full now, so mix slowly.

7. Finally, turn off the heat and throw the greens on top and mix gently. The heat from the pasta and veggies will wilt the greens just right.

8. Serve with shredded Romano cheese and red pepper flakes.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Hummus--simple and yummy!

I've been buying hummus from Trader Joe's for years. If I'm really craving it and don't want to make the drive, I buy it at Safeway. But the other day, I took a look at the ingredients and just about choked... Why is there high fructose corn syrup in hummus? What's the purpose? Also, there were so many preservatives and extras I just didn't want.

That made me think--what the heck, I can cook. How hard can hummus be? Just put chickpeas in a processor, right? Believe it or not, it really is just about that simple. There are more ingredients of course, but if you make it yourself, it's all natural and you can add or reduce anything you want. My first try, I just made your average hummus with chickpeas, garlic, salt and tahini (ground sesame seed paste). It was good.

Today, I decided to be creative. I used 1/2 chickpeas and 1/2 white beans. Yum! I made two different kinds, since I was now a seasoned pro at making hummus. The first one was a roasted red pepper hummus, which just meant I took a roasted red pepper out of the jar and added it to the hummus. Easy. I suppose you can roast your own pepper over the stove, then sweat it for a few moments and peel off the skin. But I always have a jar of roasted peppers in the fridge just in case I'm in a hurry.

The second one was more simple, with just a hint of cayenne and garlic. Wow. I ate these for lunch with a ton of carrot sticks and it was great. I know that may sound like an anemic lunch to some, but the hummus is filling and the carrots are crunchy and good. It filled me up and I felt as if I were eating healthfully, which I was.

Basic Yummy Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained
1 can white beans, drained
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 roasted red pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne

If you have a large processor, add all ingredients except for the red pepper and cayenne. Add the olive oil slowly, you may need a little more or less, depending on the consistency that you like. You can also taste and add more salt if you like at this point. Keep it pretty thick though, since adding the pepper will add more liquid.

Once everything is blended smoothly, take out half of the mixture and stir in the cayenne. This one is done.

With the half that is still in the processor, just add the roasted pepper and blend until it's incorporated in the hummus.

Serve with fresh veggies, gf crackers (glutino crackers are quite good), gf bread or even on grilled veggies or in lettuce wraps with crisp veggies.

Next I'll try some roasted eggplant for another of my favorites. The great thing about this is you can make it any way you want, or add anything you want.

My tiny processor. I think it's just for little jobs, but I don't have a big one. I think it may be time to splurge on the big one, especially since my blender just went out of business. But this is cute, isn't it? And it gets the job done.

Try this, it doesn't get any easier. Everything goes in the processor, blend and your done. Now if you're like me and you only have this tiny processor, you have to do it in batches. And even that wasn't too bad. I did it all in batches until I had all of it blended, then added the roasted pepper to half the mixture. It took longer to peel and cut the carrots than it did to make the hummus. But if you have a full-size processor, it's even quicker.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tofu and Mushrooms, What a Great Combo

Although I love tofu, for some reason it always seems like so much work. It isn't really, it's just in my head. I love the tofu at our favorite Chinese restaurant, nice and spicy. But I've been reading about nutritional yeast and how good it is for you, so I thought I would try coating the tofu in it and frying. Some people on the Internet have said it's quite good. I looked up a few recipes and really just modified them to what I had in the fridge and around the house. It turned out well, although I think I might even make it more spicy next time.

If' you've never tried nutritional yeast, give it a try. Most of the research I've done shows it to have tons of B vitamins and protein. These are two things I could definitely increase in my diet. I just happened to find it in the bulk bins at our local Whole Foods store. I even read that some people sprinkle it over popcorn. It sure smells good so I may give that a try.

There's no real recipe. I just sliced the tofu in flat rectangles and let them drain on paper towels for a few moments. Dip in soy sauce mixed with a little sesame oil and rice wine vinegar, then dip in nutritional yeast flakes (not powder) mixed with a little garlic powder and parsley.

Put just a little olive oil in a pan and let it get hot. Then cook tofu about 3-4 minutes on each side till brown. Watch closely, they can burn quickly depending on how high your heat is. Medium is usually good on a gas stove.

I served this with just a pound of mushrooms sauteed in butter, olive oil and garlic. Let the mushrooms brown and then add just a little water at the end to deglaze the pan and make a little sauce over the tofu. Yum! I think next time I'll add just a little cayenne or Chinese garlic pepper sauce for a little kick. Maybe serve some garlic paste on the side. Yummy.

This week I'm also going to try Seamaiden's Peanut Tofu with Coconut Rice. I can't wait. Check out the link to her site for more great recipes (See link under GF Sites/Links).


Monday, July 28, 2008

Shepherd's Pie with a Twist

Being a vegetarian, and gluten free, means I eat a lot of veggies and starches. I try not to eat potatoes and rice every day, but that's difficult sometimes. They are pretty easy to cook, especially when the rice comes precooked and the potatoes just pop in the oven.

But today I decided to try something new. I've always loved shepherd's pie, but I used to use a ground meat substitute made from wheat gluten, then green beans and mashed potatoes on top. Yummy...but no more. The meat is out, and the potatoes, although good every so often, are coming over much less often.

So tonight it was wonderfully spiced beans and onions on the bottom and mashed cauliflower on top. Yes, that's right. I recently saw an episode of You Are What You Eat, a wonderful British show about eating right and losing weight. The host of the show uses no dairy, wheat or meat (only fish occasionally) to get people in shape. She had a recipe for vegetarian shepherd's pie with mashed cauliflower on top, so I thought I'd make my own version.

This was so tasty, and so wonderful, I think I'm putting this on my weekly rounds. If you want, you can add a little cayenne to the beans, but I skipped that step so Daughter could eat it. She doesn't like spicy food (although Daughter #2 does). I think it would be great with a little spice, although I loved it this way just the same. I couldn't stop eating it. I made a large, round casserole dish and I can share some with a friend tomorrow and have enough for lunch. Next time, perhaps I'll add some red peppers or green beans. The possibilities are endless.

Veggie Shepherd's Pie with Cauliflower Mash

1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can white beans, drained
1 medium onion, chopped
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 TBS butter
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp parsley
salt/pepper to taste

1. Steam the cauliflower until soft. I use an electric veggie steamer, and it takes about 30 minutes to get it nice and soft.

2. While cauliflower cooks, saute onion in a little olive oil and salt until soft.

3. Add drained beans and spices. Cook for a few minutes to mingle flavors.

4. Heat oven to 375.

5. When cauliflower is done, mix in butter and about 2 tsp salt and mash with a fork.

6. Pour bean mixture into casserole dish (spray to keep it from sticking).

7. Pour cauliflower over beans and spread evenly to the edges.

8. Bake for 30 minutes, check and make sure cauliflower gets nicely browned.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's my birthday and I want cake!

Yes, it's my birthday tomorrow. And I decided that after trying to make so many cakes that fell short, I would make something good. I won't tell you how old I am, but I will say that I've had the opportunity for many, many, many birthday cakes. I know that Authentic Foods makes a great vanilla cake mix that I used for muffins. Why not make a cake? I had two of my daughter's very best friends as helpers, and all four of us had a great time making the cake. Too bad they had to leave before it cooled, but I'm saving a piece for them ('s really good.)

I'm making soup for dinner tomorrow on my birthday. I love soup: it's so comforting. I'll have soup, wine and cake. And Daughter and I will be watching two movies in a row at the theater just for fun. Now, that's what I call a great birthday.

Is this yummy looking or what? And guess what... it tastes even better than it looks. Even hubby grabbed a fork and finished off my piece. Now that's a compliment, since he's not a sweets eater anyway. This cake is moist, delicious and not overly sweet. I did use a pre-made icing and only put it between the layers and on top so it didn't overpower the cake. (I also added a few chocolate chips for fun.) I used a chocolate layer on the bottom and vanilla on the top. Hubby recommends soaking with raspberry liquor between layers next time, and I'm already trying to figure out how to make a good tiramisu with the vanilla cake.

I used the Authentic Foods vanilla cake mix and the chocolate cake mix. I did make a few changes to the recipes on the package (now come on sweets, you knew I wouldn't just follow directions...) To the vanilla cake mix, just follow the directions and add 1/2 package of instant vanilla pudding and use half & half instead of milk. For the chocolate cake, I used the directions for the vanilla cake and the changes above. I think next time I'll use instant chocolate pudding, but I didn't think of it early enough. But it is still wonderful, moist and delish! The pudding makes a big difference since you need something to keep it moist and together like a real cake.

I thought I would be done having cake and muffins, but these days more and more options are out there for those of us eating GF. I also received a package of chocolate zucchini muffins and chocolate chip cookies, both from Gluten Free Creations here in Phoenix (link on the right). They were wonderful, and who would have thought that there would be so much wonderful stuff out there. Of course, I will admit that a lot of it is pure crap, but it's all out there to try. And don't be content with the recipe the way it stands, make it your own any way you want. I used the lemon cake mix and added fresh blueberries for the best blueberry muffins I've had in years, even before going GF.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Is it Spagana or Laghetti? You decide

We spent the weekend in Payson with my very, very best friend in the whole world, and her husband and young son. We had such a great time, and getting out of the heat was magnificent. It rained most of the time, but a chilly rain that was a welcome relief. My daughter took this photo on a walk one afternoon. I have no idea what it is, but it was so beautiful and elegant. I just wanted to take it home with me. Perhaps I can plant one if I find out what it is. Anybody know?

When I got home, I was in the mood to cook. I've been craving lasagna for a long time. I used to eat it just once a year, usually when the bug hit me around Christmas time when comfort food hits the spot. But lately, since I haven't had it for years, the bug has hit me extra hard...which means I've been experimenting with all kinds of tasty, and not-so-tasty, ways to prepare it gluten free.

One attempt was found in a cookbook and I thought it sounded great. Instead of using pasta, you just use a thin layer of potatoes instead. Sounds great, right? Well...I did something wrong and after cooking it for more than two hours, the potatoes were still raw inside. I now know that the potatoes should be pre-cooked, but at the time, I figured they would cook with all that moisture in there, wouldn't you think? Well, I'm here to tell you--they don't. But, I knew I was on to something because my daughter and her friends stood in the kitchen with forks, picking away at the pan to eat the cheese and sauce. They loved it, except of course for the uncooked spuds inside.

My latest experiment is a big success. I decided today to give this another try, but I realized that pasta is my best bet. But since I don't have gf lasagna noodles, I decided to use my favorite gf pasta from Trader Joe's. I still believe that TJ's brown rice pasta is the best I've tried. And I've tried many kinds, even the more expensive versions, and they don't taste too great and they get too mushy too fast.

Anyway, it turned out fabulous! Layering the creamy ricotta cheese and tomato sauce with cooked spaghetti noodles. I suppose it's baked spaghetti, but to me, it's heaven. And to my daughter, and to my ultimate surprise--my husband--it was the lasagna that we've been missing. My daughter and I had two helpings, and my husband, who never eats my GF creations on principle, ate a huge piece for dinner. Now that's a compliment. Since I eat GF and vegetarian, and he doesn't like veggies and prefers a burger, this was a surprise.

It's actually a little less heavy than traditional lasagna since the spaghetti gets a little more air in it. And I used just two layers of pasta. Yum... Try it yourself and let me know. I'm going to try and make a vegetable lasagna next time. I'll let you know how that turns out.

Spagana/Laghette using Trader Joe's brown rice spaghetti

Baked Laghetti

1 package TJ's brown rice spaghetti
2 cups spaghetti sauce (use your own, or store-bought gf sauce)
2 8 oz packages gf ricotta cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese (shredded)
1/4 cup shredded Romano cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil

Preheat oven to 375 degree. Spray a lasagna pan and set aside.

1. Cook pasta as directed on package. Remove from water just a minute or two before they are done since they'll cook more in the oven. Very al dente...

2. Rinse pasta with cold water for a second.

3. Mix ricotta cheese with Romano cheese, garlic, basil, salt and pepper.

4. Assemble the lasagna as follows:
* Put a little tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan to keep it from sticking.
* Next place a layer of spaghetting (about 1/2) in the pan.
* Place a little less than 1/2 of the ricotta in the pan over the spaghetti.
* Sprinkle 1/2 of the mozzarella over the top.
* Place more sauce over the cheese to cover.
* Place the rest of the pasta on top and spread evenly to cover.
* Place the rest of the ricotta dotted on top of the sauce.
* Place the rest of the sauce over the top and spread evenly, making sure no spaghetti is uncovered.
* Cover the top with the rest of the mozzarella.

5. Bake for 35 minutes with a foil tent to keep the cheese from burning.

6. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes.

7. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes to set.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Where to eat out in Phoenix

I may be handy in the kitchen, but sometimes, especially when it's 110 degrees, I just can't fire up the stove. It's so hot it drives me nuts. But my daughter and I have found a few great places to nosh this summer without breaking the bank or using too much gas.

The first place we love is PieZano's pizza place in the Town and Country shopping center. Located at 20th St. and Camelback Rd., it's pretty centrally located. This small restaurant tucked behind Trader Joe's (another one of my favorites, but that's another story) lets you build your own personal pizza. We like to call it the Pizza Subway. And even better, they carry GF pizza crust.

If you ask for the GF crust, right away the server changes his gloves and reaches for a special cooking tray. After the toppings are added (they'll tell you what is GF or not, but most things are) it's run through an oven on it's own tray so it doesn't touch the bottom where gluten has been. They even have a specially designated slicer for the GF pizzas. Now that's what I call service. PieZano's also carries GF Redbridge beer and GF brownies, although they are a little pricey for the small brownie you get. Wed. nights are GF nights with free brownie and $2 GF beer, more than enough reason to give it a try.

Pizza Picazzo's
Picazzo's is a much more elegant type of eatery than PieZano's but just as good. There are a few of them dotted around the Valley, but we mainly hit the one on Scottsdale Rd. and Gainey Ranch. There is another one in Tempe off the I-10 if you're down that way.

Picazzo's has an incredible GF menu featuring pizza, foccaccia bread, dips, etc. Most everything can be made GF and it's worth it. The pizza tastes closest to real pizza, although a bit drier than PieZano's. The advantage to this one is that you can get an entire pizza. And the toppings are numerous. But, you will pay for this treat. Most GF pizzas will run you about $20 for a regular pizza, nothing special. When you pile on the toppings, you may need a second mortgage. But if anything, you must visit Picazzo's for dessert. A warm, half-cooked GF chocolate-chip cookie in a skillet topped with vanilla ice cream. It's amazing, and tastes more like a real chocolate-chip cookie than I have ever come across. I think I just like eating that, it's my favorite and worth the trip just for that, trust me. They also have a brownie along the same lines, but try the cookie, it rocks. I'll get a photo of the next one I eat.

Taco Bell
Don't laugh, if I'm looking for a quick meal that's GF, it's hard to find. Ever been driving around and think you'd love to hit a fast-food joint? Being vegetarian and GF cuts those options down to one. But, the bean tostada or the crunchy taco (with beans instead of meat) are GF and quite satisfying. My daughter and I share a #8 (three tacos) and it's just enough, and it definitely won't eat too far into your wallet. Plus, without all the cheese and meat and fried tortillas, it's not so bad for you either. You can find Taco Bell anywhere, of course. Just remember to check the web site or ask if you're not sure. Of course, soft tacos and burritos are out of the equation, and I believe when I last checked the potatoes were not GF either.

Noodles Ranch
Tucked away in the Albertson's shopping center at Thomas and Scottsdale roads is a great little Vietnamese restaurant. While in there one day, I spoke to the owner and asked about GF food. He was very accomodating and made a great GF/vegetarian rice noodle dish. It is just wonderful. It has veggies, tofu, and rice noodles in a great sauce made with GF soy sauce he keeps in the back. I've been back a few times and I'm never disappointed. Give it a try. They also have fried rice that can be made GF and it's great with tofu also.

Well, that's a few for now. I'm getting hungry. I had leftover noodles with sun-dried tomatoes, Roma tomatoes and garlic for breakfast. Yum! That will keep me going for the morning, but I'm getting hungry just thinking about all this great food. Let me know if you have any places in town you love. I'd love to give them a try.


Friday, July 11, 2008

New GF Tortillas

Just today, by FedEx, hand delivered, I found GF Tortillas at my front door. What a treat. Just three days ago I contacted the company online and requested a sample and that same day I received a FedEx notice that they had been sent. La Tortilla Factory (see link to the right under GF Sites/Links) sent two packets of their GF tortillas.

The tortillas are made from teff, along with other things. They are gluten free and come in both light and dark versions. The company sent one of each for me to try. What did I do? I immediately pulled out the skillet and made a quesadilla, even though I already had breakfast not too long ago. I also broke open an avocado since I just love quesadillas with guacamole. But I make a simple version of just mashed avocado, cayenne and a little lemon juice. Simple, yet so yummy when paired with a simple cheese crisp.

My first impression of the tortillas was a good one. They were not stiff and hard, like the Trader Joe's Brown Rice Tortillas. I just can't seem to get those things soft enough to fold. They crack and taste awful. But these tortillas were soft right out of the package, although still just a little stiff around the edges. They also have a nice smell, not too "beany" like so many other GF items. I've had teff bread, injera, at a local Ethiopian restaurant a long time ago, but after going GF I learned that they add wheat flour to their bread. Bummer.

For my quick quesadilla, I put one on the hot grill pan and let it sit for a minute, then added some cheese and folded it over. Yes...I folded it over and it folded smoothly, just like a flour tortilla. What a beautiful sight. I let it crisp for just another moment and viola! Quesadilla.

La Tortilla Factory Teff Tortilla Quesadilla

The taste was also a treat. It was mild and soft, yet crispy like a flour tortilla would be. My daughter, who is not GF, tried it and gave it her thumbs up. And from a 12 year old, that's pretty high praise. I used the light tortilla for this. Just after this test, I would recommend them to anyone trying to find something to substitute for a flour tortilla, or sick of eating just corn tortillas.

One of my favorite dinners, pre-GF, was a salad wrap. I just take a tortilla, sometimes those flavored ones, and add a little lettuce, tomato, cheese, roasted peppers, olives, and whatever else happened to be in the fridge, then add balsamic or Caesar dressing. Wrap it up and you've got a salad to go. I just loved it, and it was something that tasted great on a hot Arizona day, no cooking involved. You gotta' love that. I can't wait for dinner tonight...

Visit the La Tortilla Factory site. Find out where they sell them in your neighborhood. I just asked for a free sample, so give it a try. It's worth the effort.

(Added July 18): I've tried these wraps in a few new ways since posting and I have come to the conclusion that I don't recommend them. They are dry and flaky when I try to eat them cold, and didn't have a great flavor when I used them for a salad wrap. If you like quesadillas, then I recommend these, but if you won't be cooking them for a moment and just want a tortilla to wrap with hummus or veggies, I say keep looking. Sorry...)


Monday, July 7, 2008

Muffins for Everyone!


I have finally found it...the elusive gluten-free muffin that tastes good. It's like finding the holy grail. While shopping at Whole Foods yesterday, I came across a new brand of GF cake mix. Well, it's new to me. I don't know how new it is in the world. Since I don't have a Whole Foods close by, I have to make an effort to head out there. And I do it just about every 2-3 months really. It's not that far, I just never head out in that direction very often.

Anyway, this is the mix--Authentic Foods Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake Mix.

I found this at the Whole Foods market on Tatum and Shea in Scottsdale, for those of you in the area. Of course, I had to modify the recipe a bit. Don't we always? I just can't leave things alone. I've been craving chocolate chip muffins for ages, well since I went GF. I haven't had a good muffin since then and it's been killing me. Sure, there are some good donuts, but nothing satisfies like a good muffin with your coffee in the morning.

As you can see, these muffins are moist, chewy, crunchy on the outside and lovely on the inside. Even my kids were praising them and I had to tell them to get their mits off of them. I may have to head out to Whole Foods again before the summer is out.

Of course, these are not low-fat or low-calorie, but on this diet sometimes I just crave something that I remember from the "good-old-days" when I used to eat anything without ever asking what was in it. These come really, really close.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Muffins

2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup half-and-half (minus 2 TBS)
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 tsp vanilla extract (GF of course)
1 package Authentic Foods vanilla cake mix
1/2 package instant vanilla pudding
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
pinch of sugar for top of muffins (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk eggs, olive oil, half-and-half, orange juice and vanilla.

Add cake mix and pudding mix and stir. Be careful not to over mix. Batter will be thick.

Add chips and mix quickly.

Place batter in greased or sprayed muffin tins. FIll to about 3/4 full. Sprinkle a small amount of sugar on top if you want a crunchy top to your muffin.

Let batter sit for 5 minutes before baking.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven. If they're brown on top, they are probably done.

Let stand for 5 minutes to cool, if you can wait that long.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

And then there are salads

Remember when you used to gaze at the clouds and find images? It's a fun game to play with your kids, and even something I haven't stopped doing as an adult. This photo was shot by my daughter when she found this cloud shaped like a seahorse. It's pretty cool, isn't it? I can totally see the seahorse, can't you?

Seahorse Cloud on a Sunny Phoenix Day

Well, on to the salad. It's only to be 107 degrees today. And even though that's actually about 5 degrees cooler than a few days before, it's still stinkin' hot! Seriously, when it's this hot, I just hate to turn on the oven or stove and heat up the house. It's already hot outside and the air conditioning is running all day and night. So when hunger strikes, something cold from the fridge will do nicely.

I like salads, but not the usual iceberg, cucumber, tomato salad, which is boring to me. And salad dressing, which has always been pretty sub-par, is now even harder when trying to avoid wheat. But fear not, good salad dressing can be found, and even bettter-it can be made. Just go to and you'll see the numerous dressings that can be made.

Bottled dressings, with the exception of one or two, are a waste of money. I've never been able to make ranch dressing very well, so I buy that for anyone visiting who wants it. Also, I think Paul Newman makes a pretty good Caesar dressing. The rest should be made from scratch, unless you happen to know of a good bottled dressing that you prefer. Trader Joe's has a few good dressing that come with their prepared salads, but only a few. Just be sure to check the ingredients of the salad dressing...many contain soy sauce, which is a big no-no for those of us on a GF diet.

Actually, there are two things that truly bug me about salads in restaurants... and I'm going to rant for a moment. The first one is the astronomical costs charged for lettuce and tomato. It's just amazing that a wedge of iceberg with dressing on it can cost $6. How can chopped cabbage and peanut dressing be $8? I know I'm paying for the privilege of eating out and having it made for me, but it's just ridiculous.

The next pet peeve is the size of the lettuce and pieces in a salad. There is no way to eat a salad gracefully without looking like a slob. Lettuce pieces are huge, cabbage slices are 5 inches long. Chunks of tomato are the size of a Roma tomato! Who do these people think we are? No matter how hard you try, it always looks like you're stuffing your mouth with way too much food. And the only thing worse than trying to eat humungous pieces of lettuce is watching someone else do it! I know it looks better on the plate with bigger pieces, and it takes less time to prepare, but it's messy as hell to eat. And cutting a salad is awkward and messy, shooting lettuce and veggies across the table. Does anyone else feel this way?

One of my favorite places for salad is California Pizza Kitchen. They have a great grilled veggie salad, and a miso salad with cabbage and peanuts. But once again, they are pricey and need to be chopped up. Try making them at home. Just grill a few veggies (do it outside to keep the house cool), shake up a balsamic vinegar/olive oil/garlic/salt dressing and put everything over a salad of chopped greens (bite-sized, of course).

There are all kinds of lettuces in bags at the market and I don't mind picking those up. Also, Trader Joe's has a wonderful selection of prepared salads for a great price. If you're not into making salads on your own, take these home and doctor them up, and you've got a great meal. One of my favorites is the TJ salad with white beans and shaved parmesan. It's yummy all on it's own, but I like to add a few candied pecans and dried apricots to it. This gives it more color and crunch and it's just wonderful. And for the price of one TJ salad you get enough for 3-4 people.

Another one of my inspirations is the TJ's Asian Slaw Salad. Of course, you can make this on your own very easily. Buy green and purple cabbage and chop into bite-sized pieces. Add some chopped jalapeno, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and a few grape tomatoes. Toss with a simple peanut dressing made from peanut butter/wheat-free tamari/olive oil/sesame oil/sugar and it's a great, crunchy, cool salad on a hot day.

Asian Slaw Salad

Enjoy, and stay cool!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Non-traditional Pesto

I love the way basil grows, it looks so beautiful and bushy and smells wonderful. Every year, I plant a new one and watch it grow. My daughter uses it for her food, I use it as much as possible, but I hate to pick at it it since it's so pretty. Well, right now it's large and overgrown in the back yard. Today it was about 113 degrees out here in the desert, and this plant won't last much longer, even in the shade of the orange tree where it sits.

So if you have all that basil...we all know what that means... pesto! I grabbed a huge handful of leaves from the plant this afternoon and headed into the kitchen. Just the aroma of the leaves is intoxicating and I've said more than once that I would love a perfume with basil in it. It smells so sweet and earthy.

But, I digress. I gathered all my ingredients, most of which are always in the house such as garlic, olive oil, Romano cheese, salt, etc. But I was missing one of the key ingredients--pine nuts. I've read that some people make their pesto with walnuts, so I figured I'd use something else also.

All I could find was a bag of candied pecans from Trader Joe's. I know it sounds crazy, but I used them and it was so amazingly tasty. I'm going to use them from now one, that's how good it was. It gave the pesto a wonderful, sweet but tangy flavor. If you don't happen to have any candied pecans in the house, go ahead and try any kind of nut in the house.

Pesto has that wonderful versatility and can be used in so many ways. Over grilled veggies, over pasta (of course), on pizza, on toast (gf of course) and more. Go ahead and give this a try. And if you try anything different, let me know. I'm always looking to try something new.

This is the pesto on it's own. I just love the vibrant green color and the aroma is fantastic. I could just eat it with a spoon (and I do).

This is my pasta with the pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. Too yummy for words.

The only way to find out if something works is to give it a try. I've made a few mistakes, but I've also discovered some pretty great dishes too. I've put the recipe I used below, but go ahead and use more of less of anything to suit your taste. The recipe calls for one large clove of garlic, but if you like more, go for it. If you like less, I'd say just use one small, or just 1/2 of one. I like a lot of garlic and not so much cheese.

1 large cloves of garlic
2 TBS candied pecans (or pine nuts, walnuts, etc.)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 TBS shredded romano cheese
1 large handful of basil, (about 2 cups)
2-3 TBS olive oil

1. Put garlic, nuts and salt in food processor and blend.

2. Add basil and cheese, then blend a few pulses to get all the basil blended.

3. Add olive oil slowly to get the consistency you like. You may not need to use all the oil, or you may need more. I like mine pretty thick.

4. Done! It's that simple.

To serve with pasta, just add pesto to cooked pasta and stir. I added a few sun-dried tomatoes in the pasta water for the last 2 minutes to soften them up, then mixed them all together with the pesto. Yum. You can add a little more shredded cheese if you like.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Friends and the Sticky Issue of Food

Unless you're a hermit, you've probably been invited to a friend's house for dinner, lunch, party, snacks, etc. For many people, an invitation is welcomed and accepted immediately. For those of us with food restrictions, this makes things a little more sticky.

I've been in many situations over the years regarding friends and food. I've learned a few things along the way and I'd like to share them with you. If you've already come to these conclusions, then you'll understand. If you haven't gotten this far, then take it from me and learn from your experiences.

1. Never accept an invitation without asking about food accommodations. Well, I guess I should say never accept unless you intend not to eat. Then make sure you eat before you go, and make sure that by not eating, you are not insulting the host/hostess. If you accept without asking, you will have to make another inquiry later to make sure you can eat what's being served.

2. There are tactful ways of asking about what is being served. I always apologize for any inconvenience, and make sure to offer to bring my own food. If the hostess insists on preparing something for you but doesn't know what that is yet, remember to give any restrictions up front. Mention cross contamination, seasonings, soups, etc. I am a vegetarian and make sure that's mentioned also.

3. Bring your own food. Even if you have to insist, tell your host that you don't mind. And at this point, I really don't mind. I'm going to a friend's house for the company, not necessarily the food. And there will probably be something there you can eat, even salad or fruit. If you can, find out what the hostess is making and try to make a GF version of it for yourself. I've made some great GF eggplant parmesan, spaghetti, etc. There are even some great buns out there, so if you're heading to a barbecue, just marinate a portabello mushroom in some olive oil, salt and pepper. Then have the host grill it for you. Use the tomatoes, lettuce, etc. available and you've got a great sandwich. If you want, bring some balsamic dressing for the sandwich, but either way, you won't stick out as much and your host will probably be relieved since he didn't have to find something for you.

I recently asked about potatoes that were made at a gathering recently, making sure to mention the "no-gluten" requirement. The person who made the potatoes even assured me that there was no gluten and she understood since her son has Celiac. Imagine my surprise to find out that she had used a can of cream of chicken soup in the dish. Not only did it have wheat gluten in it, but also chicken.

That leads to the most important point of all:

4. Unless you know someone very well, or know that they are taking precautions, don't trust anyone. I have had "just salad" so many times I can't even count it anymore. But it's so much better than hearing later about something missed by the cook. And unfortunately, gluten is just not that understood by so many people. And since it hasn't been publicized as much, and doesn't cause a severe allergic reaction such as peanuts will do, then people just don't take it as seriously. They don't understand the gastric distress it can cause that night and for days later, depending on the contamination.

But once again, it all falls on your lap. If you are not sure, don't eat it. I have been tempted so many times to say, "What the heck" and just eat something. But I know I will pay for it later. And so far nothing has been tempting enough to put me over the edge. I know something will, some day, but for now, it's just not worth it.

Happy Eating

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In the Mood for Something Spicy

Tonight I decided to use up my veggies, but I didn't feel like pasta again. I used my mushrooms last night and made a great mushroom wine sauce for my GF Trader Joe's pasta. (I tried to take a photo, but it just looked like red spaghetti.) Tonight, I thought I'd take it up a little and make something really spicy and fun. I love Indian food, and I've tried making some of it. Some good, some not so good. But I never give up. I have a few staples I make all the time, like curried potatoes and onions, lentils and rice, etc. But I wanted to use up my veggies so this is what I came up with.

So wonderful with spicy seasonings, crisp, fresh veggies and sweet jasmine rice. I made enough for lunch tomorrow. (Always make enough for a second time. The seasonings sit overnight and really blend and marry well.) I'm not sure if there really is a name for this, it's just something I like to put together with whatever I've got. You must have onions and garlic, but if I had potatoes I would have put them in, as well as carrots and perhaps some fresh spinach. But I just used what I had and it was fabulous.

I also like to use Trader Joe's jasmine rice in the freezer section. It's separated into three easy-to-prepare packages, and the rice is already cooked. If I have time, I'll make rice and save it, but this rice makes it so easy to prepare rice dishes quickly. They also have a great brown rice that is flash frozen also.

Veggies and rice in a curry wine sauce

1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 sweet onion
1 clove garlic
1 zucchini
1/2 yellow squash
1/2 red pepper
3/4 cup chopped mushrooms
2 cups cooked jasmine rice
or 1 bag Trader Joe's frozen jasmine rice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1/3 cup vegetable broth
1/3 cup white wine

Chop onion, garlic, zucchini, squash and red pepper into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil in a saute pan and add vegetables. Cook over medium heat until onion and peppers start to soften, about 5-7 minutes.

Add mushrooms and cook another 3-5 minutes over medium heat.

Add cumin, curry, turmeric, and cayenne, cook for a moment, then add broth and wine. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring to deglaze the pan.

Add rice (if you're using the TJ rice, just add the frozen rice, no need to cook it.) Mix all together, lower heat and simmer. If using cooked rice at room temperature, you'll just need to warm rice. If you're using the frozen rice, you'll need about 8-10 minutes to warm everything up.

Add salt and pepper at the end to taste and serve.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Eating Out-Precautions

Being gluten free means being extra careful when it comes to eating out. Since I've been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, I'm quite used to asking about broths used, meat products, etc. even if they are not listed on the menu. Even vegetable soups can have chicken or beef broth in them, since the chef is just thinking of flavor, not us vegetarians. So, when it came time to add gluten into the questions at restaurants, two things happened. One, I was much more adamant about getting it right. Now, if there happens to be chicken stock in something and I find out later, I may be very upset, but I won't be sick for days. If there happens to be flour in that soup, I will be more than just upset.

The second thing about eating out gluten free is that I am much more picky about where I eat out. Yes, I know I can have a salad anywhere, but that gets old really fast. I have even resorted to bringing my own food to a restaurant. I found a great local Ethiopian restaurant, and Indian restaurants, with excellent food, but no bread without wheat to scoop it up with. One serves injera, which is a great bread made with teff, but they also add wheat flour. The other serves Naan, which is a wheat flat bread. I just stop by a local Mexican market and buy fresh corn tortillas to scoop up my veggies. I've found that most restaurants are OK with it.

And even though I take precautions, it's not a guarantee that I won't get glutened. It's happened before and it will happen again. There is no way to prevent it, except to eat at home or bring my own food at all times. I just can't live like that. So I take my chances. And I also eat at home a lot more than I used to. Eating out is a treat for me now, even more than it used to be. And it's a treat for my kids since they don't get to go as often either.

A few things I've learned:

1. If the waiter does not know what gluten is, walk away. It's way too easy for them to contaminate something and not even know. I recently went to a restaurant that served gluten-free pasta. When the waitress told me they were out of the pasta, she suggested eggplant parmesan, it didn't have any gluten. What? I asked her if she knew what gluten was, she said, "Of's some kind of sauce." Goodbye!

2. Always ask about the fries. Most fries are cooked in the same oil as onion rings, chicken fingers, etc. This not only leaves gluten in the grease, but meat also. If you're not into either, don't eat them. And never assume that fries are not coated with something. A lot of fries that are bought frozen have a coating on them to make them crispy, which can contain gluten. Ask the wait staff to check the bag/box they are in if they are not 100% sure.

3. Even when ordering a salad, which seems to be the safest of all--beware. Salad dressing can contain gluten, including soy sauce. If they make the dressing there, that's your best bet. Also, order without croutons and if your salad comes with them anyway, make sure you get a new salad, not just the same one with the croutons picked off. Explain that it's like a peanut allergy, which people seem to understand a bit more.

4. Even well-meaning friends can be dangerous. Unless you know for sure that your friend is aware and totally understands your needs, you may want to be cautious. Why is it that so many people think that "just a little" won't hurt? Even when I was just vegetarian, and had emphasized a no-fish policy, I had a friend use fish sauce in the dinner she prepared and then declare, "I didn't think a little bit would matter."

I recently told someone I needed a vegetarian and gluten-free dinner, so she made spaghetti...Hmmm. I have also had things offered with soy sauce, crust, etc. Now, not everyone is doing it on purpose. Some people are just not aware of all the hidden sources of gluten. When visiting friends, always emphasize what you need, and always offer to bring your own to share with others. It saves the embarrassment of having to turn down your hostess's food. Bring a roasted-vegetable tart, flourless chocolate cake, brown-rice pasta salad, etc. I even have friends request the tart and chocolate cake when I'm invited now.

5. Finally, don't let this keep you inside and afraid. When I first began this way of life, I was so afraid to eat out, I practically became a hermit. I learned to cook things I needed, but I didn't even want to experiment. Once I got over feeling sorry for myself, I realized that I could experiment all I wanted. And eat out...I just have to be more careful. More and more restaurants are recognizing gluten-free needs and it's getting easier to buy things in grocery stores, Trader Joe's, etc. And yes, if you eat out there is a chance you'll get glutened. But it's a chance I'm willing to take rather than close myself up in the house. Even those with severe peanut allergies eat out, they just prepare themselves in case they are exposed.

I have found a few restaurants where I feel comfortable eating. It feels great to know that I can rely on these places, but even then I have to be aware. I have learned to make great food for myself and my kids. And even though neither one of my kids is GF, they are very happy to eat everything I've made that is GF. They love to experiment with new foods, and understand my needs. It's important to make sure that your friends and family are on your side, it's a long journey. But it can be an easier one if you take care.

Good luck.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Lazy Day and Lettuce Wraps, a Perfect Combination

Sunday. Isn't it just a day for lounging? Remember Sundays when you were a kid? For me, it meant no school, hanging out with friends and possibly visiting family. Nothing too strenuous on a Sunday. And take it easy since tomorrow's a big day. Monday always seems to be looming over Sunday.

Although I know I could be cleaning, or something, today I would much rather watch a sappy Lifetime movie about a woman whose child was switched at birth. My daughter found a good book and has been in her bed, curled under a blanket, reading all day. We're both still in our pajamas...what the heck. I made her come out and eat, then back to bed she went. Call me lazy, but I just want to veg out today.

And speaking of vegging out, Sundays just seem to be a day of snacking and eating whatever you feel like. It used to be grilled cheese sandwiches, soup, chili perhaps. Whatever sounded easy to make, or leftovers, which is even better since it usually only requires a microwave.

Today, during a commercial, I decided to whip up some veggie lettuce wraps. It took longer than the commercial, but not more than two. I certainly got to see if Lisa Hartman Black was able to get her baby back...But enough about the movie, the lettuce wraps were the best part of the afternoon.

The recipe below was just a small lunch, but you can double it for a dinner or more than two people for a snack/lunch. This way it leaves room for dinner. And use any veggies you have in the fridge. I was hoping I had a zucchini or yellow squash, but not this time. This dish is usually a great way to use up odds and ends of veggies, just stir fry and serve up in a lettuce wrap. I love the crunch of the lettuce as you bite into it, it's like eating a taco, only better...

Veggie Lettuce Wraps

4-5 lettuce leaves, torn off gently
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup cabbage, chopped
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
olive oil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 TBS wheat-free tamari

Heat olive oil in pan for a moment, then add peppers, cabbage, garlic and onions. Sautee for about 5 minutes, until veggies are softened and onion is translucent.

Add mushrooms, cayenne pepper, tamari, salt and pepper to taste.

Sautee another 5-7 minutes, stirring infrequently to allow mushrooms and veggies to brown from the tamari.

Serve in lettuce boats.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Pasta - Comfort Food Finally

Growing up in New Jersey, Christmas Eve was never complete without Mom's pasta/seafood dinner. My favorite was the calamari pasta. I loved the chewiness of the calamari with the al-dente texture of the pasta. The tomato sauce was slightly spicy and always perfect. For the rest of the dinner, I preferred not to eat the eel, although it wasn't too bad, and never ate the plate of little fish staring at me. (Mom, what were they called again?)

Alas, that was many years ago and many miles ago. I'm living in the Valley of the Sun now, I've been a vegetarian for 22 years and gluten free for the past three years. That pretty much leaves out any more pasta/seafood Christmas Eve dinners. But Mom lives in the Valley now also, and is living GF too. Although I'll never have calamari pasta again, the search for a good GF pasta is finally over.

I've finally decided on a brand that actually tastes like the pasta I remember. Of course, nothing will ever compare exactly to a good, semolina pasta. As I've said before, I refuse to eat something that doesn't wow me, and in my quest for pasta, I wasn't wowed for a long time. I tried Tinkyada's brown-rice pasta and it was pretty good, it just had a tendency to get mushy very fast and it doesn't have much flavor. I tried corn pasta that I found at Safeway one day (I don't even remember the brand) and it was totally inedible. I think I could do some yard repair with that stuff.

Finally, someone mentioned Trader Joe's brown-rice pasta. It's much less expensive than the other brands, and believe it or not, it's great!... The pasta cooks up nicely and has a wonderful al-dente texture, just like whole-wheat pasta. It actually has a great taste that adds to the flavor of any dish. I prefer to use the spaghetti-style pasta, but they do have smaller noodles also.

Tonight, my daughter requested one of her favorites for dinner--broccoli and garlic noodles. Before GF, we ate them often. After, I would just make them for her and watch her eat them. Now that I've finally found a pasta with great flavor and texture, it's time to head back. Since she's not a big fan of sun-dried tomatoes, I just take her serving out of the pan before adding the tomatoes. But if you're good with everything, just follow the directions below.

And thanks Mom for the great Christmas Eve memories.

Broccoli, Garlic and Sun-dried Tomato Pasta

3/4 lb brown-rice pasta (cooked to al dente)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 Tbs chopped garlic
1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 tsp wheat-free tamari
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
grated Romano cheese

Drop pasta into large pot of boiling water for approximately 10 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, put broccoli in a large sautee pan with about 1/3 cup water. Cover and steam broccoli for about 5 minutes or until tender. Remove cover and let water cook off.

Add olive oil, garlic, tamari and sun-dried tomatoes to sautee pan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until garlic is slightly browned. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

Strain pasta and rinse with cold water for 10 seconds. Let drain and add pasta to sautee pan and toss everything together.

Serve with grated cheese.


Friday, June 6, 2008

What's for breakfast?

Today, let's talk about pre-made breakfast items. There aren't that many to choose from, since most traditional breakfast items are made with wheat. And most GF breakfast items fall way short of the mark, as far as I'm concerned. I haven't had a good GF waffle yet, but it's not that easy to do. Trader Joe's sells a pretty decent GF pancake in the frozen section that you can just pop in the toaster and eat. It's the closest to a real pancake you'll find, although I wouldn't want to eat it every day. Of course, there is always that box of Rice Chex cereal in the cabinet (see post below).

But today, we're talking bread items. If you happen to live in the Phoenix area, you're quite lucky these days. That's because a small bakery, Gluten Free Creations, has opened in town. Catering to those with food allergies, this little bakery tucked behind a Midas Muffler shop bakes up some pretty decent GF items. Most are also CF, DF and more, so check it out if you can.

Although not everything hits the mark, there are quite a few items that justify the big price tags they carry. The first are the GF donuts. The best two, in my opinion, are the maple-glazed donut (4/$5.95) and the insane chocolate donut (4/$6.95). These are both so close to real donuts that I've even fooled people with them. That's amazing considering most GF baked goods can only be used as doorstops. But the maple-glazed donut is a soft, cake-like donut with a yummy glaze on top. I keep a few in the freezer and just defrost when I want a donut with my coffee in the morning, or just a late-night snack.

The insane chocolate donut is just that. It's a chocolate donut, covered in chocolate icing with chocolate chips on top. Half a donut is usually all I can do, but I sure can do it. It reminds me of those great chocolate muffins I used to be able to eat. These can also be frozen until you need them. I freeze them in individual bags, making it easy to pull one out quickly.

Do these look great or what? I took these out of the freezer for the photo and it took all my willpower not to eat them. If you want a great GF treat while meeting friends for coffee, take along one of these and you won't feel deprived at all as everyone else dives into coffee cake and muffins.

The second item, also from Gluten Free Creations, is a loaf of bread. Yes, I know, GF bread stinks unless you make it yourself. Well, I have neither the time or desire to stay at home baking bread. I never did before, and I just can't now. My only attempt was a complete failure. It's like a science experiment with all the different flours, xanthan gum, baking soda, etc. I never was very good at science. I've also tried many of the GF bread options out there. Brown rice bread, tapioca bread, brown rice with fruit juice, etc. They could all be better served as a doorstop, being dense, inedible blocks.

Ener-G makes the brown rice bread and a tapioca bread. Neither is very edible. The tapioca was the only bread I could tolerate when I began the GF diet. Now, there is no way I would touch it. I suggest trying GF Creations multi-grain bread ($8.95). It's pricey, but a luxury in my eyes. I usually freeze a few pieces each in separate bags, that way toast is not a problem. Take the bread straight from the freezer and toast, you just have to toast it twice--once to thaw, once to toast. I like peanut butter or butter and marmalade. But the sandwich possibilities are endless. The bakery also makes a white sandwich bread, but this multi-grain has so much more texture and taste.

Yummy. Anyone remember the fluffernutter? Well, it's now possible with this bread. I'll post a photo of the next one I eat, if I can get it from my daughter in time.

I would suggest if you live in the area, give the bakery a try. They usually have a few items out to taste, giving you a better idea of what you like. I'm not a big fan of the cookies or cupcakes, they have a funny taste to me. But others have just raved about them. I love the hamburger bun, which is more like a good sandwich roll. The only way to know what you like is to give it a try. You can even buy just one of something, in most cases, if you want to try it without buying a whole pack.

If you're not in the Phoenix area, I believe the bakery ships items out of state. And no, I don't get any kind of commission from the store. I'm just a satisfied customer with a craving for something good for breakfast.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Another Night, Another Quiche

Well, at the risk of being boring, I decided to finish up my eggs and make another quiche. This time, I decided to make my daughter's favorite...spinach quiche. Usually, when we have company or family over, I'll make a spinach quiche with a crust for the guests, then a roasted veggie quiche for myself and anyone else who wants it. This time, I decided I wanted the spinach quiche to share.

It turned out great, and I actually caught my husband eating it from the pan. That's something, he usually doesn't like quiche without a crust, but he said he couldn't stop himself, it was that good. My daughter ate two pieces right away and declared it the best. I just love rave reviews!

I think the balsamic vinegar makes a big difference in the veggies. I love the flavor it brings out of the veggies. Plus, this is such an easy meal and leftovers the next day are even better. Also, anytime you have to make something for a potluck, make one of these and you'll be sure to have something you like. When you eat GF and vegetarian, that's a real necessity.

Remember, you can put almost any veggie into a quiche, just make sure you sautee them and get out as much of the water as possible so your quiche isn't mushy. And also be sure you use good cheese.

Have fun...

Spinache Quiche/Tart

1 16 oz. bag frozen chopped spinach
1 sweet onion, chopped finely
2 tsp chopped garlic
6 oz. chopped mushrooms
1 Tbs olive oil
2 eggs
3 eggwhites
1/3 cup 1/2 and 1/2 (use soy milk if you want dairy free)
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs wheat-free tamari
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
2 Tbs soft goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sautee onion in olive oil on medium heat until carmelized (about 7-10 minutes).

Add mushrooms and garlic and sautee another 5 minutes or until mushrooms are cooked through.

Add frozen spinach, balsamic and tamari. Stir well and cook for another 7-10 minutes, or until liquid from spinach is cooked out.

In a separate bowl while the spinach mixture cooks, beat eggs, 1/2 and 1/2, salt and nutmeg.

Spray a tart pan and pour the spinach mixture in the bottom to about halfway up the side of the pan. Cover spinach with fontina cheese, then dot the top with the remaining goat cheese.

Pour egg mixture over quiche and bake for 35 minutes, or until browned on top.

Let set for 10 minutes before serving.


Cereal: It's not just for breakfast anymore

One thing I have missed so terribly since going GF is cereal. Yes, I believe in the Jerry Seinfeld philosophy that cereal is good anytime, not just for breakfast.

I was never really a big fan of very, very sweet cereal, although a little Cap'n Crunch with Crunchberries never hurt anyone. But mainly, I liked corn flakes, Special K, etc. I've tried the alternatives and found Gorilla Munch to be the only cereal worth eating twice. It's gluten free and tastes somewhat like Cap'n Crunch (without the crunchberries...)

But recently, life has changed. It seems the people at General Mills have decided to give GF cereal a try. Their first attempt--Rice Chex. Instead of using barley malt, they're using molasses, thus making Rice Chex a new alternative. What a treat! Now, cereal is back on the menu in my home.

I was so tired of watching everyone else eat cereal and not having a great option. Just make sure that there is a check mark on the front of the box stating Gluten Free. There are some of the old boxes out there still, so be careful. So, as I have my Rice Chex and rice milk for breakfast, I salute you General Mills.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Who says quiche needs a crust?

One of the things I used to love making is quiche. I was always trying new fillings and different cheeses. When I found out that crust was no longer allowed, I stopped altogether. It wasn't until about a year after going GF that I realized I could make a quiche, just skip the crust.

I had always thought that it would not be as good, but to be quite honest, it's even better. I would often take off most of the crust on quiche since I wasn't a big fan anyway. Now, I don't have that problem. Yes, I know that many people make their own GF crusts and they taste "almost" like the real thing.

My philosophy is simple...if it doesn't take great, why eat it? I don't eat mediocre bread just because it's bread, or just an OK brownie since it's GF and a brownie. If it doesn't wow me, I don't eat it. Why waste the calories and time?

So, on to the quiche. Or I guess it's called a tart without the crust, yes? One of my favorites, and the favorite of my children and friends, is a roasted vegetable tart. You can roast the veggies the night before and just use the leftovers for the quiche, or roast them just before making it.

The roasting takes the most time... And I've also discovered after many tests that fontina cheese is one of the best for quiche, as well as a few dots of goat cheese for a little extra flavor.

Roasted Vegetable and Goat-cheese Tart

1.5 cups assorted roasted veggies (see below)
2 eggs
3 eggwhites
1/2 cup 1/2 and 1/2
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
2 Tbs soft goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl, add eggs and eggwhites. Beat for a moment, then add the next 6 ingredients. Beat well and set aside.

Spray a tart pan with nonstick spray.

Layer veggies on the bottom of the pan (see directions below). Then layer fontina over veggies. Dot the goat cheese around the top evenly.

Pour egg mixture over cheese and veggies. Bake for 45 minutes or until set.

Let sit for about 10 minutes to settle, then serve.

Roasted Veggies
Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Slice any variety of vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces. I used a zucchini, 1/2 a red pepper, 1/2 a sweet onion, 5 mushrooms, 1/2 lb of beans (1/2 yellow, 1/2 green) and 1/2 a carrot. If you're making roasted veggies the night before, just reserve about 1.5 cups before serving.

Place veggies in a large roasting pan, sprinkle with olive oil, about 2 cloves of chopped garlic, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes.

Remove foil and roast another 45 minutes, stirring about halfway through. If you need to, depending on your oven, you can put the broiler on and brown them for a minute or two.

Set them aside to cool.