Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reed's Extra Ginger Beer

I recently had a chance to try a gluten-free beverage that was previously unfamiliar to me - ginger beer. The brand was Reed's, and the flavor was Extra Ginger Brew (the company makes 6 different flavors...all variations on ginger). The brews are non-alcoholic, and brewed directly from roots, fruits, herbs and spices. In the words of Reed's, the company is reviving "the lost art of brewing soft drinks." (As opposed to modern day soft drink production, which typically involves bottling, carbonation, high fructose corn syrup, colorings, and flavorings.)

As the name of the flavor implies, the Extra Ginger Brew has...you guessed it...extra ginger, for some added kick above and beyond Reed's regular formula. They weren't kidding. I found the ginger to be a bit overwhelming. It was too strong a flavor. But I saw potential, and suspect I'd really enjoy a cold bottle of toned-down ginger beer. (By comparison, a ginger ale - as opposed to ginger beer - would be more mellow than even the mellowest ginger beer.) In the end, it's a nice alternative to supermarket soft drinks, which I tend not to drink anyway.

Give Reed's a try, and if you happen to sample some of the other five flavors, please do weigh in and let us know what you think!
- Pete

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Rollercoaster

Over the weekend I gave a lot of thought about what to title this post: "When it rains, it pours..." "When life gives you lemons..." Ultimately, I decided on "The Rollercoaster." You see, I've been looking for an adequate metaphor to describe how the gluten-free lifestyle parallels life in general. In the end, I decided that a rollercoaster is a pretty good metaphor, though it's not quite perfect. I'll explain.

In the sense that rollercoasters have highs and lows, then yes, it works as a metaphor for both life and for the gluten-free lifestyle. In the gluten-free world, you start with a pretty deep low - usually the abyss of symptoms preceding a diagnosis (with Celiac, gluten intolerance, whatever). From there on out, there are highs (switching to a gluten-free diet, feeling healthy) and lows (gluten contamination). But that's where the perfect parallel between gluten-free living and life in general end.

That's because, in my opinion, the longer you live a gluten-free lifestyle, the more sustained the highs become, and the fewer lows we experience. Our bodies are healthy, we become adept at eating a gluten-free diet, you know the drill. Conversely, we experience fewer and fewer cases of contamination or other "lows" that punctuate an otherwise great ride. Life in general isn't like that. The longer you walk this Earth, the greater the likelihood is that your personal rollercoaster will experience ever more lows. As we grow older, our bodies may begin to fail us (in ways big or small), we've almost surely faced challenge and adversity, and we've almost surely faced a growing amount of pain and loss and inevitably, death. I'm not trying to be morbid or a "downer." I'm merely trying to illustrate how the gluten-free and life rollercoasters begin on similar tracks but quickly diverge from one another over time.

I draw this distinction because recently, our gluten-free and life rollercoasters diverged in very big ways. On the heels of us announcing our new cookbook (high), Kelli was in a car accident (big low) that totaled her car and shattered her right foot. She went into surgery on Friday, and 2 plates and 13 screws later, her foot is back together. She now faces a long recovery, including up to 14 weeks off her feet entirely, and a likely six months before she'll be able to walk normally again. In that same week, our 4.5 month old daughter, Marin, went on a hunger strike that had her unsettlingly close to being admitted to a hospital so doctors could administer fluids and nutrients via IV (another low). The reasons for her backslide are various: silent reflux, a string of successive ear infections, likely dietary sensitivies she would have inherited from me, and a feeding aversion because of the chronic pain she now associates with eating. Little by little, we're now making positive progress with Marin.

Needless to say, the last seven days have been tiring, stressful, emotional, frustrating, and at times, filled with hope and rays of light. It has also been a time filled with an outpouring of support from family and friends. We consider you, NGNP's readers, to be a part of our circle, and so I'm sharing our recent challenges with you here on the blog.

Admittedly, I sometimes struggle with how personal to get on the blog...how much detail is enough personal detail without being too much? Because on the one hand, blogs can be wonderfully personal, making the vast indifference of the Internet a much more intimate place. But blogs can also be narcissistic and self-important, and I'm wary of crossing over that line and succumbing to an inflated view of the value of my personal life to you the reader. To that end, I strive to be personal only insofar as personal details illustrate a greater point about gluten-free living. It's a balance I'll continue to seek (and hopefully, achieve).

In the meantime, when it comes to your personal gluten-free rollercoaster, what have been your highest highs, and your lowest lows?

- Pete

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Foto: Quinoa Salad

In 2007, Kelli and I traveled to Bolivia on a high-altitude mountaineering expedition. The trip took us high into the Cordillera Real, one of the dominant mountain chains in the country. In between attempts on various peaks, we returned to La Paz, our "home base" and Bolivia's de facto capital city. (In fact, it's the highest capital city in the world, with an average elevation of 12,000 feet above sea level!)

While in La Paz we discovered quinoa, a "grain" popular throughout Andean culture and cuisine. It's naturally gluten-free, and unbelievably good for you. The restaurant in our hotel in La Paz prepared quinoa as a cold salad, with diced red pepper and chopped green onion, and mixed with a basic red wine vinaigrette. The combination of flavors is unbelievably good, and the dish is really easy to make.

We've been making it ever since!

- Pete

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Foto: Chinese Chicken-Lettuce Wraps

Today's Friday Foto is of Chinese Chicken-Lettuce Wraps. The filling is a combination of primarily chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and water chestnuts, which come together in great ways for both flavors and textures. The sauce that brings it all together combines tamari wheat-free soy, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and dry sherry. We serve our wraps using iceberg lettuce, though other people prefer another variety.
By the time this post goes live (I wrote it on Thursday and set it to post on Friday), I'll be into Day 1 of a four-day, 142-mile, self-supported mountain bike ride through the desert and canyons from Fruita, Colorado to Moab, Utah. A full article about the trip will appear later this summer in an issue of Denver Magazine, but I'll post a mini-update when I'm back. In the meantime, have a great weekend!
- Pete

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Our New, Forthcoming Cookbook

Kelli and I are very proud and excited to announce our forthcoming cookbook! It's called Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, and has been in the works for the last few months (we just submitted the manuscript to our publisher yesterday). The last two months in particular have been especially busy, with us feverishly developing and testing recipes (both new and old). The book is due out in September 2009, five short months from now, and is being published by The Experiment, a new publishing house in New York City. The Experiment was founded and is headed up by President and Publisher Matthew Lore, a 20-year veteran of the publishing business.

The subtitle for AGFC is "More than 175 Great-tasting, From-scratch Recipes from Around the World, Perfect for Every Meal and for Anyone on a Gluten-free Diet—and Even Those Who Aren’t." That pretty much says it all, but here's some extra elaboration...

The book has more than 175 recipes, and more than 250 if you count variations and secondary recipes that support the primary dishes. The cooking style (in addition to being gluten-free, of course) is artisanal in the sense that the dishes are largely from scratch, often using fresh ingredients. The recipes span the gamut from breakfasts, to sides, to appetizers, to soups and salads, to entrees, to desserts, to drinks. The recipes also reflect both heirloom dishes from our combined family heritage, as well as our love for travel and diverse ethnic cuisine. As a result, you'll find dishes spanning a range from American comfort food to Italian, Belgian, Polish, Mexican, French, Andean, Cuban, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese (and a few more I'm surely forgetting at the moment). Throughout the book, you'll also find text boxes with all sorts of useful information, including "shortcuts," which offers ways to make the same dish using pre-made, store-bought ingredients (for example, using store-bought GF pasta instead of making your own fresh pasta from scratch at home).

For those that are interested, the book is already available for pre-ordering on Amazon.com!

To all of you - our readers and fellow gluten-free bloggers - we wanted to say a big Thank You. The mutual support and good cheer of the gluten-free community kept us inspired and motivated throughout this process. This will be my fourth book, and from experience, I can tell you that publishing a book is a lot like running a marathon - it requires determination, and stamina, and perseverance, and patience. When you cross the finish line at the end, there's a combined feeling of elation and exhaustion, but you also know that the journey was worth the effort. In this case, the journey was possible in part because of you, and for that, we say Thank You.

On a personal level, this has been a lot of fun for us as a couple. It's only the second time we've worked together as coauthors. Years ago we wrote an article for a small, regional magazine called Life in the Finger Lakes. Our article was titled, "Holiday Haute Cuisine," and was about using Finger Lakes wines in recipes to make a holiday meal (complete with soup, entree and dessert). We had always talked about "doing something together" related to our shared love of food, but that idea sat in limbo until this book project became a reality. Years after we first professed to collaborate, we finally did it!

- Pete

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ravioli, step by step in pictures

Ravioli is one of those foods that doesn't get a lot of press within gluten-free circles. I've seen a select few specialty GF bakeries and companies making them (they tend to be very pricey), but by and large they're off most people's radar screens (perhaps because folks think ravioli are too difficult to make). Which is a shame, because they're pretty straightforward to make from scratch. Here's how to do it:

Back in November 2008, we wrote about how to make pasta dough from scratch. Begin with a batch of freshly made pasta dough. Back then we were using a blend of tapioca and brown rice flours, but more recently we've simply been using an all purpose GF flour blend.

Roll the pasta dough out into a large, thin sheet about 1/16" thick. Then cut the sheet of pasta into equall-sized squares. 2" squares will give bite-size ravioli. 3" squares will give lots of real estate for fillings.

Place a dollop of your preferred filling (we use ricotta cheese here) in the center of one ravioli square.

Wet the edges of the square with a finger dipped in water, and lay a second ravioli square directly over the first.

Using your fingers, firmly press down on the edges of all sides of the dough.

Then, using the tines of a fork, press around the edges again. This step is both cosmetic and structural, firmly sealing the filling inside the dough.

The result is beautiful ravioli from scratch. Here, I have a pretty good-sized border around the filling, but you can also put in more filling and have a thinner edge, as long as the seal is good.

The last step is to cook the ravioli in boiling salted water. Once they float (they'll sink initially) we give them a few extra minutes to cook through, and then they're done. Serve wih a sauce.

- Pete

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Century of Gluten-Free Blogging

Today, we're celebrating a "century" of gluten-free blogging.  Not because we've been around for 100 years (not even close), but rather because today is our 100th blog post.  Over the course of the previous 99 posts, we've covered a lot of ground: recipes, restaurant reviews, product reviews, musings on the gluten-free lifestyle, and most recently, gluten-free food photography.

For today, though, we'd like to turn the tables and have you blog to us.  Specifically, leave a comment and give us some feedback on how we're doing, and most importantly, what you'd like to see from us in the future.  More recipes? restaurant reviews? maintain the status quo?  This blog doesn't exist for us... it exists for you, and we want it to be a helpful resource for you.  So chime in and make your voice heard!

In the meantime, here's what we have in the works for upcoming posts: new recipes, more restaurant reviews, and a four-part series on gluten-free nutrition for endurance athletes called "Going the Distance."  We look forward to hearing from you!

- Pete

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Foto: Honey-Mustard Chicken and Green Apple Salad

Welcome to the second installment of the Friday Foto! Today's pic is of honey-mustard chicken and green apple salad. The inspiration for the dish came from a business trip to Stowe, Vermont. I had a lunch with colleagues at a popular local pizzeria, and finding something I could safely eat took me to the salad section of the menu...where I found a delightful honey-mustard chicken salad. We've since come up with our own marinade for the chicken (and a corresponding honey-mustard vinaigrette for the lettuce). Plus we've added some green apple slices and lightly toasted pecans. Divine!

Have a great weekend, and cook something tasty.

- Pete

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Church of Food

Recently, I’ve been thinking about religion. Not Religion religion. And not because I posted yesterday about GF foods for Passover. Rather, I’ve been thinking about food religion. More specifically, I’ve been paying more attention to the many ways in which food philosophies resemble religious denominations. Allow me to explain.

Within food circles, we tend to call different food philosophies movements or diets. The Slow Food movement. The locavore movement. The gluten-free diet. But let’s be honest – in reality, they’re all pretty darned close to being religious denominations. Each has an ideology and set of values (and within those values, certain foods and actions are deemed right and wrong). They have adherents. They gain converts. They can often be critical of other ways of thinking. And they align along a spectrum of very conservative to very liberal.

Conservative food denominations are the most restrictive - the most fundamentalist - in their approach to food, and tend to be not accepting of denominations that are more liberal than themselves. Conversely, the liberal food denominations are the most accepting, welcoming one and all with open arms. Roughly aligned from conservative to liberal, I could quickly make a list that might look like this: raw food, vegan food, vegetarian food, slow food, local food, gluten-free food, processed food, anything goes food, etc.

Now, before you criticize my ordering, I know that this is a gross oversimplification... There’s plenty of room for debate about who belongs where on the spectrum… And that, in reality, it’s not an easily aligned linear list… And that I’ve omitted plenty of other examples of food denominations. My point is simply…to make a point.

I started thinking about this topic after reading a Raw Food adherent’s heavy criticisms of foods such as pure maple syrup, pure agave nectar, and other foods that I personally consider to be “natural” and “healthy” and highly preferable to the alternatives: more refined sugar, “fake” syrup made of high fructose corn syrup, etc. But recognizing my own reaction to this Raw Food critic’s opinion, I realized that he was on a much more conservative end of the spectrum than me. I’d probably place myself somewhere in the middle, leaning toward conservative, at least in terms of my food ideology. And in the same way that the Raw Food foodie was critical of my views, wasn’t I in turn critical of still other denominations who were even more liberal than me? (Read enough of my posts, and surely you’ll see my loathing for heavily processed foods.)

Of course, such talk of religion – food centered or not – inevitably brings up questions of right and wrong. Can all food denominations be right, or are some food denominations right and others wrong? And how do we establish who is and isn’t right? Is there some food-centric “absolute moral authority,” or is food governed by relativism (where right and wrong can only be judged within the context of the culture, the denomination, the individual, whatever)? It’s a slippery slope, for sure.

Take the example of “processed food.” How processed is too processed, and can we answer that question objectively, or is it subjective? The Raw Food foodie would say that something like pure maple syrup is too processed, because it’s been “cooked” to produce it. (To the Raw Food foodie, I’d remind him that there are many wonderful foods whose nutritional power is unlocked by the cooking process, and still other foods that wouldn’t be edible at all, save for the transformative power of cooking.) For me, “fake” maple syrup is clearly too processed. Gimme the pure, natural stuff. But how do I make such a determination? How do I decide food right from food wrong? For me, the maple syrup distinction is intuitive. I just “know” what seems good and bad, at least within the context of my own food denomination.

But what if I had to clearly and succinctly explain my decision making process? Could I do it? Some thorny issues quickly pop up. For one, one of my principal objections (I have several, this is just one) to “fake” maple syrup is its abundance of high fructose corn syrup. And yet, I’m a proponent of using agave nectar as a natural sweetener, and it has a higher fructose content than even high fructose corn syrup. So what am I to make of it all? Do I have a double standard? For me, it largely comes back to that intuition. Intuitively, hfcs seems wrong, and agave nectar seems okay. Perhaps that partly has something to do with the intention behind it – mega-industrial agribusinesses use hfcs to super sweeten processed foods and trick our brains into craving more of the foods they’re trying to sell us. On the other hand, agave nectar is something I keep in my cupboard, I know how it’s been made, and I use it myself to sweeten foods. I’ve never heard of anyone keeping a bottle of hfcs in their pantry to sweeten their tea each morning.

I’ve never been one for labels, or for denominational divisions. But sometimes it does help to categorize yourself for the sake of explaining your perspective to others. Given that, then what’s my food denomination? I’m a gluten-free, largely lactose-free, mostly locavore, ethnically diverse, reasonably natural, fresh, from scratch foodie. Wow. That’s a mouthful… not quite as succinct as saying “Christian,” or “Buddhist.” But there it is, none the less. So what’s your food denomination?

- Pete

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Taking a Pass on Gluten for Passover

For all of you last minute shoppers looking to stock up for Passover, I recently received an email from the folks at Shabtai Gourmet, a New York-based, Kosher, gluten-free bakery. (We reviewed Shabtai back in September 2008 - check out our thoughts here.) Shabtai's wide range of GF goodies can be found at these supermarkets nationwide. Now, keep in mind that Passover starts at sundown tonight, and the cakes in particular will only be on display until then...so depending on what time zone you're in when reading this, it may be too late for you. (Unless you're not Jewish, or Jewish but not observing the Passover holiday, in which case you wouldn't be bound by such restrictions.)

Also, an update from Andrew Itzkowitz at Shabtai about the bakery's products: "I have sourced a non hydrogenated palm shortening, an evaporated cane juice, natural vanilla extract, and am working on other ingredients as well." We applaud these changes, and wanted to say Bravo to Shabtai.

Lastly, an observation about the Passover holiday (admittedly coming from a Long Island boy raised Christian but with many good Jewish friends...): during the Passover holiday, Jews customarily are prohibited from eating, possessing, or otherwise benefiting from chametz. Chametz, in turn (to grossly oversimplify), is any leavened or fermented food containing wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oats. (As opposed to unleavened foods, such as matzah.) I couldn't help but notice that those five component ingredients are all sources (or potential sources, in the case of oats) of gluten. Conveniently enough, then, Passover tradition largely involves taking a big step toward eating gluten-free for the duration of the holiday. That's not entirely accurate, since unleavened breads like matzah can be chock full of gluten. But without digging around and doing more research into the matter, I wonder (out loud...readers chime in here) if, in searching for recipes that would satisfy Jewish Passover custom, Jews unintentionally began baking gluten-free long before (as in thousands of years ago) gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease were ever on the radar screen? Or did they simply shift their food emphasis to unleavened Kosher foods that still contained gluten?

I'm treading in dangerous waters here, since I'm writing about a topic about which I have relatively little first-hand knowledge. But I'd genuinely be interested in learning the answers to my thought questions posed above. If you have any insights, please leave us a comment!

- Pete

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Foto: General Chang's Chicken

It's the first Friday of April, the farmer's market opens tomorrow, spring is in the air (if you don't count the one to two feet of snow the mountains are expecting tomorrow), and we thought it only fitting to unveil a new feature for the NGNP blog: the Friday Foto. Each Friday we'll go light on the words and heavy on the visuals, posting a (hopefully) inspiring food pic that motivates you to make something tasty over the weekend.

For the inaugural photo, we're showcasing our General Chang's Chicken. The name for the dish is a hybrid of Chang's Spicy Chicken and General Tso's Chicken. Chang's Spicy Chicken, many of you will know, is a popular dish available gluten-free at P.F. Chang's China Bistro, and it's the proximate inspiration for our dish. But Chang's Spicy Chicken in truth is just one version of a dish more widely known as General Tso's Chicken, the broader inspiration for our dish. General Tso's combines a little sweet and a fair bit of heat in a heavily Americanized version of Hunan-style Chinese cuisine that grew out of New York City in the 1970s.

True to the "heat plus sweet" rule for General Tso's Chicken, our General Chang's Chicken uses a blend of juices and brown sugar to supply the sweet, and a blend of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and most importantly, fresh red chili paste, to supply the heat. But that's enough with the words... the Friday Foto is supposed to be about visuals. Make something yummy this weekend, and let us know about it. Heck, even take a photo and share!

- Pete

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gnocchi, step by step in pictures

Kelli and I have been in the kitchen quite a bit lately, doing a fair bit of recipe development and recipe testing. One of our recent projects was making gluten-free gnocchi, a pasta-potato hybrid that's popular in Italy and South America (especially Argentina). Think of gnocchi this way: if a mashed potato dumpling and a fresh pasta noodle had a love child, gnocchi would be it.

Almost every gnocchi recipe you see has more or less just four ingredients: flour, potato, egg, and salt. Ours is no different, using GF flour in the place of regular flour. Kelli worked the ingredients into a dough, then rolled the dough into a long, slender "tube," and lastly cut the tube into short segments. Then she rolled each segment across the tines of a fork, which gives a nice cosmetic touch, and helps to "grab" whatever sauce you put on your gnocchi.

As she made more and more gnocchi, the finished ones went into a bowl with a little flour, to prevent them from sticking together. Meanwhile, we boiled a pot of salted water.

We boiled the gnocchi in batches. When you first drop them into the water, they sink. After a few minutes, they'll rise to the surface. At this point, we gave them an extra 2-3 minutes of boiling time, then removed them from the water with a slotted spoon before starting the next batch.

This is what the finished gnocchi looked like. They're tender, and quite tasty...but they could use some window dressing (aka tasty sauce).

I made a quick and easy marinara sauce with tomato, basil, garlic and salt, and voila! Gnocchi for dinner.

- Pete