Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Foto: Boneless Country-Style BBQ Pork Ribs

In honor of Memorial Day Weekend, when the vast majority of America is sure to be grilling, today's Friday Foto is tailor-made for your barbeque: Boneless Country-Style BBQ Pork Ribs.  They're thick, and meaty, and as ribs go, quite a lean cut with not much fat.  Plus, as boneless ribs, you can pretty much eat the whole darn thing.

To make these beauties, whip up a batch of our homemade BBQ sauce.  Divide the sauce in half.  Use one half to marinate the ribs, and to baste while grilling.  Once the ribs are done, use the other half of the sauce (which should have never touched raw meat) to give 'em a nice wet rub.  

When grilling the pork, as with the grilled Atlantic salmon steak, about 10 minutes on the first side (make sure your grill is nice and preheated to get those great grill marks) and 5 minutes on the second side should do it.

If these were traditional bone-in ribs, I'd call 'em bone suckin' good.  But since they're boneless, I can't say that.  Instead, I'll just say they're delish.

- Pete

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Product Review: Blue Diamond Nut-Thins

Blue Diamond Growers, the makers of Nut-Thins, is a heavy hitter in the gluten-free world these days.  However, most people might be surprised to find out that the company's roots - and main focus to this day - is almonds.  The company is 100 years old this year, and its cooperative of nearly 3,000 California almond growers makes it the largest tree nut processing and marketing company in the world.

The company's Nut-Thins were one of the first GF products I tried after I went gluten-free, and in the years since, I've returned to them from time to time.  Strictly speaking, I place Nut-Thins into the rice cracker family of foods.  For my money, Nut-Thins are some of the better tasting and better textured rice crackers to be found.  Part of what sets them apart is the prominent use of nuts in the ingredients.

On the average, they're quite good.  For my taste buds, they tend to come across slightly salty, but when I check the actual sodium levels on the nutrition panel, they're not especially high in salt.  Bonus.  To date I've sampled four of the six available flavors: almond, pecan, hazelnut, and cheddar cheese.  The almond, pecan and hazelnut flavors are all very nice, but for me, they're largely interchangeable.  The flavor of the particular nut isn't so pronounced that there are striking differences between the three.  I'll eat any of them, any time.  I'm not as much a fan of the cheddar cheese flavor.  Rather than integrate the cheddar cheese into the cracker itself, it seems as if the cracker has merely been dusted with cheddar cheese powder.  It comes across a bit out of balance, and I think the cheese could be better integrated into the cracker.

Blue Diamond is a strong supporter of both the Celiac Disease Foundation and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  Plus, although the Blue Diamond facility also processes wheat, BD tests every batch of Nut-Thins to make sure that gluten levels are below the 20ppm threshold.  (On top of that, their website indicates they're GFCO certified as well.)

Recently, an entire case of Nut-Thins showed up on our doorstep.  (That's 12 whole boxes of the stuff!)  The funny thing was, I received no advance notice, the box contained no cover letter, and I received no follow up communication.  It was as if the Nut-Thin fairy made a special delivery, courtesy of UPS, direct from the BD headquarters office in Sacramento.

Looking for a way to use some of those Nut-Thins in an unconventional way for the sake of this review, I decided to take an entire box of the almond flavor and make it into bread crumbs.  I pulsed it in the food processor until I got a fine crumb, then added ground black pepper, garlic powder, dried basil, and dried oregano, and pulsed just a little more to mix.  Then I used the Italian-seasoned Nut-Thin breadcrumbs to make meatballs.  They were delicious.  (I've since used three other boxes in other ways, including an updated taste test.)

As you know, we have a policy of not accepting more product samples than we use for a review, and so that leaves us with a surplus of 8 boxes of Nut-Thins that we're passing along to you in the form of a giveaway!  (6 are almond, 2 are pecan.)  We'll run the giveaway through Friday of next week (that's June 4, for all you calendar junkies...).  To enter, simply send an email to pete@peterbronski.com and include Nut-Thins Giveaway in the subject line.  We'll randomly select 8 winners and send you a box!

- Pete

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A New Take on New Planet

With yesterday's post about the upcoming gluten-free beer tasting, I wanted to (yet again) revisit New Planet's beer.  Back in November 2009, I initially reviewed an early "prototype" version of the brewery's Tread Lightly Ale.  One month later, in December, I updated that review based on the public roll-out of the beer.  Back then I had mostly positive things to say about New Planet.

More recently, in April 2010, many of you read my "Shifting Sands" post about how I re-evaluated my opinion of many popular gluten-free beers (such as RedBridge and New Planet) in the wake of tasting some exceptional microbrewed gluten-free beer at the Alchemist in Vermont.  This time around, I was more critical of brews such as New Planet.  Central to my critique was its overly sweet apple-and-citrus nose and flavor.  I also noted its relatively poor head retention (a critique common to many gluten-free beers, including my own home brew).

In the wake of that post, I was pleasantly surprised when the friendly folks at New Planet reached out to me.  They acknowledged my criticisms, and to New Planet's great credit, they said they were working on it.  It's not the first time this has happened.  Back in the early days of NGNP, I reviewed Shabtai Gourmet, a Kosher, gluten-free bakery in NY.  There were some things I liked about the bakery, including their rainbow cookies, but I also came down pretty heavy on them for their use of transfats and hydrogenated oils and shortening.  In response, the company began phasing out their use in some of their recipes.  I don't pretend to be so self-important that I think NGNP was the only reason for the change.  But I like to think we nudged them in a positive direction.

Often, when companies respond in this way, it benefits the consumer and the company alike.  In the case of eliminating transfats, consumers get a healthier product.  But more often, the improvement is in taste, and that benefits both the consumer and the company, which experiences greater sales as the result of an improved product.  I believe that the coming months will show New Planet to be just such a company - one who's sales will increase at the same time that we, the consumer, get to drink a better tasting beer.

To wit, in the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to taste a re-formulated recipe for the Tread Lightly Ale, courtesy of New Planet.  Right off the bat, the beer had slightly improved head retention.  But to the more important point of its nose and flavor, there was a notable change and improvement.  The cider flavor about which I complained was largely gone.  The beer remains a little on the sweet side, but overall, it's a very nice pale ale.  They've very successfully rounded out the flavors resulting in a well-balanced beer.  To be frank, I was almost shocked - in a very positive way - by the marked change.  I concluded my tasting notes with a single word: "Impressed."

It's good timing for New Planet.  The newly improved TLA debuts just as New Planet makes some big announcements: state-wide distribution throughout Colorado, a new slick website, the beer getting picked up by Old Chicago restaurants in the state, and a soon-to-be-released summer seasonal.

The new summer seasonal is called the 3R Raspberry Ale.  Like the TLA, it's made with sorghum, corn, orange peel, hops and yeast, plus the addition of raspberry puree from fruit grown in Oregon.  I had the chance to sample several versions of the ale while it was in development, and give my feedback to New Planet.  I haven't tasted the final version that will be bottled for public consumption, but if it resembles anything like the test versions I tried, gluten-free beer drinkers will have much to rejoice this summer.  Since I tasted "in-house" test batches not meant for the public, I won't share my tasting notes here.  That wouldn't be fair to New Planet.  I'll reserve an official review of the Raspberry Ale for when it hits store shelves.  But I will say this - in my opinion, the 3R Raspberry Ale may be one of the most exciting bottled gluten-free beers out there; something that really sets NP apart from the likes of RedBridge, New Grist, Bard's and company.  I'll drink to that...

- Pete

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Calling All Local Taste Buds

With Memorial Day Weekend nearly here, for many, it's the official start of summer.  Summer, to me, means lots of grilling and outdoor dining.  And that means knocking back a cold beer or two.  In that spirit, I plan on holding a blind gluten-free beer tasting, and I thought it'd be fun to open it up to NGNP readers.  (Sadly, this means that unless you're able to teleport yourself a la Star Trek, then you must be local to participate).

We'll taste at least six gluten-free beers, including my Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit home brew.  The remainder will be some of the more widely available commercial GF brews - RedBridge, New Grist, Bard's, New Planet, and Green's.  (And possibly another one or two.)  It'll be interesting to see how they fare in a truly blind tasting - what kind of tasting notes people write, and how they rank the beers from most favorite to least favorite.

Here's how to participate: send me an email (pete@peterbronski.com), and I'll take the first 4 or 5 people on a first come first served basis.  You should, however, meet the following criteria:

1. You live in the Denver-Boulder-Fort Collins area.
2. You're gluten-free.
3. You like to drink beer.
4. You're not overly familiar with any one brand of GF beer.

Now, I'm not going to vet anyone and do background checks, but please try to adhere to the guidelines.  Thanks!  (And to clarify - the tasting will NOT happen over Memorial Day Weekend.  Once we know who's participating, we'll set a mutually convenient time and date in the near future...)

The results of the blind tasting and photos from the event will appear here on NGNP.

- Pete

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 2

Another week has passed.  It was a time defined by continued progress, as well as by familiar setbacks.  As usual, here's the quick-and-dirty summary:

Training Days: 4     (To Date: 9)
Rest Days: 3     (To Date: 5)
Body Weight: 155.5     (Net Gain/Loss: -4.5)
Running Days: 3     (To Date: 7)
Running Miles Logged: 18.2     (To Date: 45.2)
Average Run: 6.0 miles     (Short: 5.6, Long: 6.4)
Cross-Training: Mountain Biking

As you can see, I've lost another 2.5 pounds, making for 4.5 pounds of body weight shed in the first two weeks.  Frankly, I'm a little surprised (but quite pleased) with how quickly I've dropped those pounds.  And I must emphasize - I am not starving myself, nor am I eating a diet of lettuce and celery sticks.  My gluten-free training diet over the course of the past week has been both well-rounded and filled with appropriately sized portions of comfort food: Belgian waffles, almond scones, cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting, BBQ boneless country-style ribs, Stromboli.  I have to attribute my success (thus far) in this department to "the little things."  Snacking less between meals.  Going for fresh fruits and veggies when I do snack.  Eliminating "throw-away" calories.  And eating a smaller portion of the indulgent foods, while filling the rest of my plate with healthy choices.  It's really quite a simple formula; one that's easy to implement, and one where I can seemingly have my cake and eat it, too.  How's that for a win-win situation?

A familiar setback did creep in this week, though.  I got sick, again.  In fact, I'm still recovering today, my seventh day of symptoms, and I have a little ways to go before I reach 100% again.  I first started feeling "icky" on Tuesday afternoon/evening.  It had all the makings of another viral relapse.  Wednesday, conveniently enough, was a planned rest day in my training schedule.  I took it easy, and hoped my body would fight it off.  I never did get as sick as I had during my many bouts this past winter, but I've been sick enough that I've been forced to scale back my training - in terms of the number of workouts (I've taken additional, unplanned rest days), the mileage of my runs (quite a bit shorter than I had hoped for this week), and the intensity of the workouts (I'm running a slower per-mile pace).

In a lot of ways, this mirrors the days when I used to get sick on gluten, pre-gluten-free (which thankfully feels like a million years ago).  So many times, I would have to revise my expectations, adjust my physical exertion and planned activity, because I'd be "sabotaged" by another round of gluten-induced sickness.  This time, of course, the problem isn't gluten.  It's a virus.  And I'm not letting it keep me down.  Though I've been sick, I've still been well-enough to train, and maintaining that routine and continuing to chart progress keeps my spirits high.  I have big expectations for the week ahead.

- Pete

P.S.  Have you entered to win a copy of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness?  Complete the Athletes for Awareness trivia quiz and submit your entry!  The contest giveaway runs through the end of the week!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Foto: Grilled Atlantic Salmon Steak with Lemon Risotto and Beurre Blanc

Today's Friday Foto is a combination of a craving (for lemon risotto) and an accident (the Atlantic salmon steak).  Last weekend, Kelli and I (and by default, Marin, too) were in the mood for seafood, and sea scallops in particular.  But at our local Whole Foods, where we almost always buy our fresh fish and such, the scallops were way too expensive to stomach ($23 per pound, as I recall).  However, this lovely salmon steak was on sale for $8 or so a pound.  We called an audible, switched gears, and soon enough, our sights were set on grilled salmon.

One thing I love about a fish steak as compared to a fish fillet, is that the meaty, hearty steak holds up really well to grilling directly on the grate.  You can get beautiful grill marks, AND you can flip it over, something I never do on a grill with a fish fillet (always skin-side down!).

We paired the salmon steak with a lemon risotto and some grilled asparagus, and topped it off with a rich beurre blanc sauce that really rounded out the flavors.  Risotto, for the uninitiated, is an Italian rice dish made using arborio rice, stock, and sometimes, cheese.  Beurre blanc, meanwhile, (which translates as "white butter") is a rich, French butter sauce traditionally made with a reduction of white wine and shallots.  We tweaked both to suit our preferences and available ingredients, and this Friday Foto is the result.

To Make the Salmon:

1. Rinse and pat dry the salmon steak.
2. Rub with olive oil on both sides, and season lightly with salt.
3. Place directly onto a preheated grill grate over medium-high heat.
4. For a 1.5-inch thick steak, grill for 10 minutes on the first side without disturbing.
5. Flip, and grill for 5 more minutes on the second side.

Keep in mind that the steak will likely have bones running down the center line.  When done to perfection, your salmon steak will flake easily with a fork, have moist meat, and smoky crispy edges and skin.  Delicious.

To Make the Lemon Risotto:

6 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 tbsp butter, divided
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, small diced or minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
zest of 3 small lemons
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

1. Heat the broth in a saucepan.
2. In a separate heavy large saucepan, melt 2 tbsp of butter in the olive oil over medium heat, add the onion, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the rice, and cook for 2 minutes.
4. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, then add 1 1/2 cups of stock, and cook until the stock is fully absorbed by the rice, stirring frequently.
5. Add an additional 1/2 cup of stock at a time, cooking until absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup, again stirring frequently.  Repeat until all the liquid is absorbed, about 40-45 minutes.
6. Remove from the heat, add the remaining 2 tbsp of butter, the lemon zest, and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In today's Friday Foto, we took our risotto more toward the "mushy" side, but you can also cook the Arborio less, leaving it more al dente and preserving the individual character and texture of the grains of rice.  That's totally up to you.

To Make the Beurre Blanc:

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 small onion, minced
8 tbsp (1/2 cup) butter, divided

1. Combine the lemon juice, white wine, and onion in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat.  Reduce by 2/3 (leaving just 1/3 the total original volume...it should be almost syrupy).
2. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the butter a little bit at a time.  (If necessary, you can return the saucepan to the heat briefly in order to help the butter melt, but be cautious - too much heat will break the sauce).

Finally, to assemble the dish, start with a bed of risotto.  Plate your salmon steak on top.  Drizzle with the beurre blanc.  Enjoy!

- Pete

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Product Review: Noosa finest yoghurt

Kelli, Marin and I recently went to our beloved Boulder Farmers Market for the first time this season, which now has more than 100 vendors.  It's always great to see familiar faces (in addition to our regular vendors, we even bumped into The Spunky Coconut and her family), but it's also exciting to find new vendors with tasty gluten-free offerings.  Noosa finest yoghurt is one such discovery.  The crowd was 3 or 4 people deep at their stall, and we could hear one of the Noosa guys - in his best salesman voice - proclaim, "Try it, and you'll buy it!"

We couldn't resist, and we muscled our way through the crowd to the front (politely, of course...).  Noosa proved to be quite a tasty yogurt (in a word, it is delicious), and we walked away with 3 or 4 16-ounce containers to take home, all blueberry (which was all they had left, and which, conveniently, is one of my favorite flavors).

Part of what makes Noosa such a tasty yogurt is that is very rich and creamy.  It's almost like having dessert, and the nutritional information backs that up.  Each 4-ounce serving contains 140 calories, 6g of fat, 17g of sugar, and 5g of protein.  By those measures, this is a yogurt that is both decadent and indulgent.  And there's a reason why - you won't find much in the way of low-calorie fat-free milk on the ingredients list, nor will you find artificial sweeteners like Splenda or aspartame.  Noosa is made with authentic, familiar ingredients - milk, sugar, blueberries, cream, honey, and a handful of other ingredients.  In other words, it's made with the kind of ingredients we might use if we made yogurt here at home.  We like that.

We also like the backstory behind Noosa, which I think is worth sharing.  The company, founded in 1999, is based out of Fort Collins, Colorado, and they make Australian-style yogurt with mostly local ingredients from right here in Colorado.  Most notably, the dairy comes from Morning Fresh Dairy Farm, in Bellvue, Colorado.  Founded in 1894, the company is still run by family descendants of the founder.  Their milk is all-natural (and in the process of undergoing organic certification), and they deliver milk to several thousands customers in the surrounding communities the old fashioned way - with a fleet of 14 drivers who bring fresh milk to your door in glass bottles.  (Morning Fresh has also partnered with the Grant Family Farms CSA to dovetail weekly deliveries of milk and produce.  Melissa at Gluten Free for Good is a member of the Grant CSA, and she's not shy about talking about how much she loves it.)

The yogurt comes in four flavors: blueberry, mango, raspberry, and honey (which is the base flavor for the other three).  For now, it's available throughout Colorado at Whole Foods and select King Soopers locations (and some farmers markets).  As word gets out, though, I'd expect its popularity, and its availability, to spread.  Noosa can be a bit on the pricey side, but I'd categorize it (at least for now) as a boutique, high-end, high-quality yogurt, so the price seems to fit.  What's more, if you buy it at the farmers market, the more you buy, the cheaper the per unit price, so it ends up costing similar to other similar yogurts you'd find at the supermarket.

With both the price and the decadent richness, I don't eat Noosa in the same quantities as I do other yogurts.  But I'd gladly have a smaller serving of Noosa than a larger serving of a less satisfying brand.  And I do.

- Pete

Logo and image courtesy of Noosa.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Bread Bomb

Usually, when we unveil a recipe, what you see is the (hopefully) beautiful and tasty end result.  But sometimes, the process of recipe development and testing can be so disastrous that it's funny.  Witness my bread bomb in the photo above.  Call it the ugly side of recipe testing no one ever gets to see...until now.  I couldn't resist sharing this flop.

For more than a month now, I've been working on developing a new recipe for sandwich bread.  By design, the yeast bread in our cookbook is quite hearty.  We love it, but it's also not the best when you're looking to smear some PB&J between two slices of fresh bread.  Hence, I set out to create a pretty drastic variation of our standard yeast bread, aiming to create something I'm calling "sandwich bread."

Versions 1.0 and 2.0 were steps in the right direction.  When tweaking a new recipe, we'll typically adjust only one or two variables in a recipe at a time, so that we have a clear understanding of how that change affected the final outcome.  But for version 3.0, pictured above, I decided to throw caution to the wind.  I changed 3 or 4 major variables, and not by just a little bit.  Curious to see what would happen, I basically pushed them to the opposite extreme of where they had been.

My intention was to create a very wet, loose bread dough that would rise easily and be light and airy once baked.  Well, it rose too easily, basically exploding over the top of the bread loaf pan.  After the photo was taken, it then completely collapsed back in on itself.  So in a sense, version 3.0 both exploded and imploded (no small accomplishment).  All I can say is, thank goodness I had the foresight to put a cookie sheet in the oven under the loaf pan.

Version 5.0 is now complete, and as you can see, it's a huge improvement.  It was essentially a rush to the middle - a compromise between versions 1.0 and 2.0, and versions 3.0 and 4.o.  At this point, it's very close to being ready to share.  Version 6.0, and at the very latest, version 7.0 should be the final version posted here on NGNP.  Stay tuned!

- Pete

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 1

Heading up the East Ridge of Mount Sanitas

Well, Week 1 is officially in the bank, and I'm feeling pretty psyched with how things have gone.  For those of you who want to the quick recap, here's a by-the-numbers summary:

Training Days: 5     (To Date: 5)
Rest Days: 2     (T0 Date: 2)
Body Weight: 158     (Net Gain/Loss: -2)
Running Days: 4     (To Date: 4)
Running Miles Logged: 27     (T0 Date: 27)
Average Run: 6.7     (Short: 4.7, Long: 9.1)
Cross-Training: Hiking

Already, my training and my diet are paying dividends.  Over the course of the first week, I've lost 2 pounds, which places me 1/5th of the way toward my target weight loss.  The improvement in my running has been remarkable for taking place over such a short 7-day time span.  I opened my week with a 4.7 mile run that felt good, and concluded my running for the week with a 9.1 mile run that felt great.  I can't tell you how encouraging it is to feel this kind of progress after such a rough couple of months.

My friend, Melissa, who blogs over at Gluten Free for Good, said this would happen.  Earlier this winter, I lamented to her how I was frustrated to be sick yet again, and how I felt as though I had lost much of my baseline fitness.  "It will come back," she said of my strength and stamina.  "Your body remembers."  It seems she was quite right.

In order to track my progress and bring more "science" to the process of training, I've developed an elaborate Excel spreadsheet that I use to track not only the date, my bodyweight, and my miles run.  I also include info such as my time, my per-mile pace, the temperature, cloud cover, wind, elevation gain, and more.  This will help me better understand how my body performs under different conditions, so that I can more accurately train the way I need to, can more precisely predict my race performance, and can more appropriately tweak my gluten-free food intake to supply the energy and types of calories that I need.

From a gluten-free diet perspective, I really want to emphasize that I am NOT on a diet of restriction.  As I said they would be, the changes I've made have been subtle - drink more water, less coffee, juice, wine, beer; enjoy dessert a few nights per week, not every night; snack on fruits and veggies primarily; and decrease portion sizes slightly.  We still cook with butter and olive oil and whole or 2% milk.  I still enjoy dessert (i.e. flan).  I still have a glass of wine or a pint of beer with dinner.  And I still eat the same kinds of meals we've always eaten; the same kinds of meals you'll find in our cookbook (for example, the past week included scalloped potatoes and ham; spaghetti carbonara; vegetarian stir-fry with rice noodles; garlic chicken).  In a sense, I'm not on a diet, really.  More accurately, I've tweaked my diet in order to refine the "fuel" that's powering my training and racing.

On the summit, with Boulder far below

Week 1 concluded with a bit of family friendly cross-training... a loop hike up and over Mount Sanitas, a 6,800' peak that stands just outside of Boulder.  The mileage was modest: about 3.5 miles or so.  But it packs a good bit of elevation gain into that short distance: some 1,200-plus vertical feet from trailhead to summit.  And, I was carrying some training weight - with Marin on my back in a carrier (which included water, snacks, diapers, etc.) - I had about 30 extra pounds to lug to the top.

It was a wonderful way to enjoy a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, and a great way to end the first week.  Looking ahead to Week 2, I plan to incorporate some longer runs, plus some mountain biking (in part, as a way to give my knees a break from all the pounding).  As usual, my gluten-free diet for the week will trend toward lean proteins, paired with fresh veggies and gluten-free grains.  Our meal plan for the week includes dishes such as grilled Atlantic salmon steak with lemon risotto and beurre blanc sauce, stromboli, black-bean papusas, and boneless country-style pork ribs.  Now that's a recipe for fueling endurance sports if I've ever heard of one!

Lastly, while we're on the topic of endurance sports and the like, you should know that we're doing a cookbook giveaway in conjunction with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  As many of you know, I'm one of the NFCA's spokespersons as an Athlete for Awareness, and the cookbook giveaway ties into the AfA program.  It runs for the next two weeks, and we're giving away three (3!) cookbooks.  To enter, you have to correctly answer five questions about the Athletes for Awareness program.  Each question focuses on a different athlete, and to find the answers, you'll need to peruse the NFCA website, the athlete blogs, and/or do some intelligent search engine queries on the Internet.  Good luck!

- Pete

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Foto: Flan

As promised in yesterday's post, today's Friday Foto is of flan.  Flan, also known in some circles as creme caramel, is Spanish in origin, though it's also popular in other cultures, such as Cuban (which is where our version comes from).

Unlike a creme brulee, which has a custard "filling" with a crunchy, caramelized sugar top, flan has a smooth, creamy custard with a silky, soft caramel sugar top (it almost becomes a brown sugar sauce by the time it's done cooking).  The combination really is divine.

This particular recipe comes straight of our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking (page 223).  By far the hardest part (and it's not really that hard) is taking the time to melt the sugar slowly over low heat.  Attempts to accelerate the process with higher heat will only result in burned sugar, and that's worthless for making the dessert.  Patience, in this case, is definitely rewarded!

Have a great weekend!

- Pete

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I'll take the physical challenge

Those of you old enough to remember Nickelodeon's Double Dare, a kid's game show from the late 1980s and early 1990s, will undoubtedly get the reference of my blog post title today.  Contestants answered trivia questions, but also had the option of tackling a "physical challenge" in order to earn points and win the game.

Those of us on a gluten-free diet are no stranger to the physical challenge.  That's one way of thinking about the uncertain and challenging times leading up to our diagnosis, whether with Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance, wheat allergy, whatever.

I recently faced another physical challenge of my own.  If you read NGNP last summer and into early fall, you might recall the season I spent racing in Xterra off-road triathlons, which culminated at the end of September with the U.S. National Championship in Utah.  Going into that race, though, I came down with a bad case of H1N1.  Then, in early November, I had a relapse and was sick a second time.  From mid-November through the end of 2009, however, I was healthy as ever.

With the arrival of early January, though, my latest physical challenge arrived.  I began a series of chronic, recurring illnesses - viral in nature - that hammered me.  Between January and April I was sick eight times or so.  Each time, the pattern was the same: high fever, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, and often, other symptoms as well.  Each episode would last for 5-7 days.  Then I'd recover, be healthy for a week or so, and then relapse yet again.  My doctors didn't have many answers beyond the "repeated viral relapse" theory.  All my bloodwork - from cholesterol to insulin to white blood cells to endocrine to many other factors that they measured - came back normal.

Admittedly, it was a crushing blow for me emotionally and motivationally.  Apart from feeling unwell for such a prolonged period of time, I was also unable to train.  The net effect was that I lost much of the fitness I had worked so hard to gain throughout the course of 2009.  During the intermittent times when I felt well, I tried to go out for modest runs, to gauge how I was feeling.  Often, I could barely manage a 3-mile jog.  I couldn't believe it.  I had gone from trail running almost-half-marathons as part of my routine weekly training for Xterra, to sucking wind on a loop that I used to "sprint" as a time trial.

By now I had hoped to have already raced in my first Xterra of 2010.  Instead, I'm now hoping to do my first race in early June at the earliest.  I just don't think I'll be ready before then.  Gratefully, though, it seems the viral relapses are finally behind me.  I've very happily resumed training, which makes life for me start to feel more normal again.

Which brings me to my next physical challenge.  In addition to competing once again in Xterra, I'm also looking ahead to a major goal: a 50-mile trail run ultra race with 9,000 vertical feet of ascent (the Virgil Crest Ultra).  In short, the race is burly.  Last year, the winning time was 8.5 hours.  More than 25% of the people who started the race didn't finish.  The distance is the equivalent of running back to back marathons.  The vertical ascent is the equivalent of running to the top of the Empire State Building...eight times.  Bring on the pain.

I'm officially registered, and the clock is ticking - the race is on September 25 in New York.  As you might guess, I have a lot of work to do between now and then.  And so this past Monday, I commenced training in earnest...both for Xterra AND for the ultra race.

Apart from simply finishing the ultra race (which in itself will be an accomplishment), I've set a few goals for myself:

1. Finish in under 10 hours
According to last year's results, that would be good enough for a top 5 result.  I've never been one who's simply content to finish.  I always like to push myself to the limit, so why not go for broke?

2. Lose 10 pounds
Normally, my body weight reaches equilibrium around 155 pounds.  When I'm at the peak of training and racing, that number decreases to 150 pounds.  Right now, however, I'm hovering around 160 (thanks in part to my lack of physical activity with the virus, and some subtle dietary changes).  I have no desire to lug around an extra 10 pounds of body weight for 50 miles of trail running, and so I'm working to get back into "fighting shape."  

3. Have fun
Such endurance events are always a mix of pleasure and pain (or maybe, taking pleasure in the pain, which may sound twisted, but it's kinda honest...).  

In order to achieve goal #1, I have an aggressive training plan I'll stick to.  It involves lots of high mileage trail runs, hill workouts, cross-training on a mountain bike (in part to save my knees), etc.

Achieving goal #2 will be a combination of training and diet.  I've shifted my diet in small ways that are already starting to have a positive impact.  For one, in an attempt to avoid "throw away" calories, I'm restricting myself to having "flavored" drinks (such as coffee, wine, beer, juice) with one meal per day.  At other meals, I'm sucking down water like a fish.  For another, I've slightly decreased my portion sizes overall, and I've also decreased my portion sizes of meat, and traded them for vegetable-based gluten-free proteins, such as from quinoa.  For snacks, I almost exclusively reach for fresh fruit and/or veggies.  And I'm trying to limit desserts (such as a flan that will be tomorrow's Friday Foto) to only a handful of nights per week.

Achieving goal #3 will largely be the result of doing all that I need to do in order to achieve numbers 1 and 2.

Lastly, in order to keep myself on track, I'm going to introduce a kind of public accountability.  Each Monday, I'll write a brief blog post here on NGNP that summarizes the previous week's results - race recaps, training summaries (such as miles logged trail running), current bodyweight, etc.  Simply knowing that NGNP readers will be seeing the info should be motivator enough to keep me on the tried and true (as if fear of the race itself wasn't enough!).

Monday and Tuesday were training days.  Yesterday was a rest day.  Today I'm back to training.  And you know what?  I'm mighty excited about it.  It's time for another season of racing, one capped by the 50-mile ultra race.  I'll take the (gluten-free) physical challenge, please.

- Pete

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Foto: Dessert Crepes with Vanilla Ice Cream

Continuing the blueberry sauce theme from last week's Friday Foto, this week is all about more dessert.  Namely, natural vanilla ice cream wrapped in fresh crepes, and then topped with blueberry sauce.  So good.  There's really not much more to be said about the recipe itself.  The crepe recipe is straight out of our cookbook.  The blueberry recipe was identical to last week.  And the ice cream was a store-bought all-natural French Vanilla.  Quick.  Simple.  Easy.  Home run.

Now, before you think we're dessert-aholics (which we sometimes are), there was a method to our madness.  First, my mom was in town visiting from New York (out of town visitors is always a good excuse to whip up a tasty dessert!).  Second, we were "celebrating" Kelli passing her glucose screen which tests for gestational diabetes (we're expecting baby #2, if I haven't mentioned that here on NGNP before...).  And thirdly, both Marin and I were down with a nasty case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (adults aren't supposed to get bad cases of it... I guess I was one of the "lucky" ones).  Since we were both in a good bit of pain, we needed something cold to eat that would go down smooth.  

And so there you have it - a perfect storm of factors that all added up to one thing: dessert crepes with vanilla ice cream and blueberry sauce.

- Pete