Tuesday, March 29, 2011

5 Tips for Rebooting Your Gluten-Free Body and Soul

I came home from work recently one afternoon when Kelli - somewhat out of the blue - hit me with a question. It was the kind of question that I knew had a hidden motivation behind it. She was fishing. "What can you tell me about changing the air filter in a car?" she said.

I immediately launched into my response about how it's pretty inexpensive and easy to do. That it's a common up-sell when you get your oil changed. That a service technician will come out and meet you in the waiting area, carrying your car's air filter. That he (or sometimes, she) will flex open the baffles of the accordion-like filter, and tell you how disgustingly dirty the filter is, and how important it is that you change it, right away. I concluded by telling Kelli that it was a ploy commonly enacted upon women.

As I told her this, a smirk slowly grew across her face, and a glimmer shone in her eye. "I got the oil changed in the car today," she said. "At a Valvoline. And we have a new air filter." We both just laughed.

Whether or not our car was truly due for an air filter change, neither of us will know for sure. A new air filter certainly won't hurt things any. But the oil change and air filter - and the spring that keeps hinting at its arrival - has gotten me thinking about rebooting our own body and soul. Cars need routine maintenance, a flush of the system, a replenishment of vital fluids. So do we.

It's easier to do than you might think. I've never done a proper "cleanse" the way some other gluten-free bloggers have. (Though I fully intend to try one of these days...) Instead, I make simple adjustments that - for me, and quite possibly, for you - can have a profound positive influence on your body and soul.

1. Drink More Water
We get told this a lot, but it's true. Water is hydrating and cleansing. It's vital and fundamental to life, and you'll never regret having an extra glass of it each day. (Unless, perhaps, you're in an important and long-running business meeting with an already-full bladder. In that case, maybe wait on that glass of water for a bit...)

2. Get Outside
Getting outside isn't just about breathing some fresh air (which in and of itself is a good thing...). It's about exposing yourself to some good old-fashioned sunshine. The sun helps your immune system strengthen. It helps you build strong bones. And it helps improve your emotional well-being. The Winter Blues aren't just a myth...they're a real condition officially known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and one of the standard treatments is to sit in front of a lightbox, which emits the same wavelengths of radiation as the sun, for a little while each day. Give yourself a dose of the real thing.

3. Breathe
I mean this metaphorically and literally. On the one hand, yes, take time to breathe more deeply. To feel your own breath. But I also mean to take time out. Relax. Meditate. Find balance. On Sunday afternoon, both girls were miraculously asleep at the same time, and Kelli and I spent some time literally just sitting on the couch together in the play/sun room. We didn't do much of anything. Except breathe. And it felt restorative.

4. Try Something New
The novelty of trying something new this spring can be invigorating. It's engaging and motivating and will keep you stimulated. For us, one new thing we're doing this spring - in combination with our community garden plot - is composting. We're collecting our kitchen scraps of veggies and fruits, and the girls (mostly Marin at this point) help us put them in the new compost bin that's now sitting in the back corner of the yard at the house we're renting from the college.


5. Get Fresh...
...with your foods. I'm talking lettuce greens, oranges, whatever fruits and vegetables float your boat. The point is, eat them fresh, uncooked, raw. Quite simply, they are refreshing. Some people would say that such foods are still full of their life force, compared to highly processed refined foods that have been stripped of that life force. I know that, for me, a crisp salad can be one of the most refreshing things on Earth. I also eat two pieces of fruit every night after dinner. (Just ask Kelli how many navel oranges we went through this winter...)

So you see? Nothing earth-shattering. Just some basic, easy-to-implement tips that will leave you feeling recharged and ready to go.

- Pete

P.S. In case you missed it, check out our post from the beginning of January on 10 Tips for Resilient Resolutions for more advice.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Foto: Pasta Primavera


What a wild swing of temperatures we've been having. Yesterday, I went for two runs - one in the morning, and one in the late afternoon. For the first run, I was bundled up as if it were winter; for the second run, I was in nothing but shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. Now, the forecast low temp for tonight (Friday) is expected to dip to a frosty 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter is stubbornly clinging to the Hudson Valley.

I'm developing a new perspective on this fickle shift from winter to spring...and back to winter...and hopefully soon, back to spring. As budding gardeners, we can't wait to sink our spades into the 20x20 plot at our community garden. But we can't plant anything outdoors until we're beyond the threat of hard frosts, which we're obviously not. And so spring - at least from a gardener's perspective - waits a bit longer to arrive. Until then, we'll be starting some of our herbs and vegetables indoors in pots and transferring them to the garden weeks - or even a month or more - from now.

And yet, spring is here, at least according to the calendar. That's worth celebrating. With food. With pasta primavera, an Italian-American dish whose name literally translates as "spring." Lots of bright, colorful vegetables. Fresh, clean flavors. A stark contrast to the heavier soups and stews and meat-and-potatoes types of dishes that typified winter meals.


Pasta Primavera
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
1 lb asparagus, cut into thirds
1 large carrot, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
8 ounces baby bell mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Herbs de Provence
6 ounces GF penne pasta

Steps
1. Preheat oven to 450 deg F.
2. Spread the vegetables on a half sheet pan or in a large roasting pan, generously drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence.
3. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, boil the pasta.
5. Strain the pasta, toss it with the roasted vegetables in a large bowl, and serve.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, shellfish-free, fish-free, refined-sugar-free, vegetarian, vegan.


- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays post.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Product Review: Pamela's Baking & Pancake Mix


If you caught our Great Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend Comparison two months ago, you know that it was a round-up of the nutritional profiles of many of the most prominent, widely available all-purpose gluten-free flour blends in the United States. Starting today - and continuing in the future - we'll look at them individually and evaluate how well they perform in gluten-free baking. First up is Pamela's Products, which sent us a gratis sample of the company's Baking & Pancake Mix, which is sold in 24-ounce (1.5 pound) and 4 pound bags.

Pamela's scored well in the nutritional comparison, but in our Versus: Brownies post last month, Pamela's was found to be sorely lacking. How would the Baking & Pancake Mix fare?

First, the mix's ingredients: brown rice flour, white rice flour, cultured buttermilk, natural almond meal, tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, potato starch, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, and xanthan gum.

Second, some background about how we approached this review (and how we'll approach future reviews of all-purpose blends): In order to truly and fairly put a blend through its paces, we decided to use it to bake three types of foods - pancakes, cookies, and a quick bread (in this case, muffins). Also, because gluten-free flour blends and gluten-free recipes are often optimized to work together as a unit, if a company specified a recipe, we used their recipe. In this case, the packaging for the Pamela's blend contained recipes for pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, and muffins, so we used their recipes in all three instances.


Pancakes
We made two batches of pancakes...one with extra large eggs and oil, and one with large eggs and melted butter. In both batches of wet batter, we could plainly see the coarse almond meal. The batch made with oil was surprisingly loose. The batch made with melted butter had less runny batter and superior taste. Either way, the result was a very good pancake. (For sake of comparison to the photo at the top of this post, you can also check out our review of pancakes made with the Bisquick mix.)

Cookies
We followed Pamela's cookie recipe to the letter, but while the resulting chocolate chip cookies had good flavor, they were a flop. They were super flat, melding into one another on our cookie sheet. They had crispy edges and a crumbly, sandy texture. Blech.


Muffins
Finally, we made blueberry muffins. They largely redeemed the cookie fiasco. They had very nice texture - moist and tender, with good crumb. The flavor did tend to be a little bland, and we thought the muffins could be a touch sweeter, but overall, they were highly successful.

The Bottom Line
Overall, we didn't find the Pamela's mix to be as universally versatile as we expected. The pancakes were good, though there was some variability in their taste and texture, depending on the method of preparation and ingredients. The cookies flopped. The muffins were a star of the show, even if a little bland.

You'll pay about $4 per pound for the Pamela's mix, which is middle of the road (for example, Bob's Red Mill's all-purpose blend comes in less than $3 per pound, while the King Arthur blend comes in at more than $5 per pound...).

At the end of the day, Pamela's is a good, not great, option for an all-purpose gluten-free baking blend.

- Pete

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Recipe: Red Lentil Dal


In honor of the official arrival of spring yesterday, I had originally planned on posting a seasonably fitting recipe today. But it seems winter is going to give it one last go in our neck of the woods. After two days in the 60s late last week, I walked to work yesterday in the snow. How does that phrase go... March comes in like a lion, and goes out like...Old Man Winter?

So, I've tabled our celebrate-the-arrival-of-spring recipe until later, as this week's forthcoming Friday Foto. Instead, I've replaced today's recipe with Red Lentil Dal. It has become one of our go-to dishes this winter. It's easy, it's flavorful, it's inexpensive. We often make it for our "vegetarian day" each week. I could hardly believe it when I searched the blog archives and discovered that I hadn't yet posted the recipe. Today is the day.


Red Lentil Dal
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
1 cup red lentils
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
Olive oil
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 cups GF chicken stock
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

Steps
1. Rinse the lentils under cold water.
2. In a medium saucepan, saute the garlic and onion in a little bit of olive oil, until the onions are soft and translucent.
3. Add the ginger, curry powder and cumin, and saute for 2 more minutes.
4. Add the lentils, chicken stock and cilantro.
5. Bring to a simmer, cover, and turn the temperature down to low. Cook for 20 minutes.
6. Add the butter. Stir to mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Serve over your favorite rice (we used Jasmine rice in the photo).

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free.

Note: To make this recipe dairy-free, omit the butter or substitute a vegan dairy-free "butter" option, such as Earth Balance. To make this recipe vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. To make this recipe vegan, do both.

- Pete


P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays post.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Foto: Brussel Sprout & Tofu Fried Rice


Streaks. We usually talk about them in the context of sports. Consecutive games played. Consecutive wins. Consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance. You get the idea. But streaks also happen - at least for us - in cooking. For much of the winter, we've had two streaks going: consecutive weeks eating brussel sprouts, and consecutive bimonthly fried rice dinners.

I'll just plain say it: we can't get enough brussel sprouts. To co-opt a famous SNL skit, "I've got a fever, and the only cure is more brussel sprouts." We've been eating them weekly, usually quartered, tossed in olive oil, dusted with salt, pepper and garlic powder, and roasted in the oven. (We do the same preparation with asparagus on the grill.) Sadly, the brussel sprout season is fast coming to a close...

About one month ago, we posted a recipe for chicken fried rice. We don't eat it quite as regularly as we've been devouring brussel sprouts, but it does make an appearance on the dinner table about once every two weeks. Partly, it's tasty. But also, Marin loves it. It's one of those foods that she'll consistently eat well. Fried rice nights are nights on which she happily joins the "clean plate club," as Kelli grew up calling it.

In today's Friday Foto recipe, those two worlds of brussel sprouts and fried rice unexpectedly come together in surprising and delicious ways. I came home late one afternoon/evening - neither Kelli nor I can remember exactly why - and dinner was almost ready. "We're having fried rice...with brussel sprouts and tofu," she told me. I did a double take. Fried rice with what? I loved them both independently, but had never considered putting them together. From the first bite, though, I was in heaven.

It was undoubtedly fried rice at its heart. But the brussel sprouts were prominent, too. Incredibly, it worked. The flavors complemented one another wonderfully. If I can say one thing about the dish it is this - Make it. Now. Before brussel sprouts go out of season until much later this year. If you like brussel sprouts, or fried rice, or both, you won't be disappointed.


Brussel Sprout & Tofu Fried Rice
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
brown rice (1 dry cup cooked in 2 cups water, with a touch of olive oil and salt, then cooled)
1 tsp chili sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp tamari wheat-free soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp dry sherry
3 tbsp water
4 oz extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes
4 cups (about 10 oz) shredded brussel sprouts
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 scallions, chopped
5 tbsp olive oil

Steps
1. Cook and cool the brown rice ahead of time, or cook the brown rice, transfer to a large bowl, and pop it in the refrigerator while you work on the remaining steps.
2. Mix together the chili sauce and all ingredients through and including the water in a bowl. Add the tofu to marinate and set aside.
3. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a hot wok or large skillet. Add the garlic and brussel sprouts and stir fry until semi-soft and the edges of the brussel sprouts begin to brown. Remove the garlic and brussel sprouts from the wok.
4. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the wok. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tofu from the marinade (reserve the sauce). Stir fry the tofu until golden brown.
5. Move the tofu to the edges of the wok. Add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the brown rice and stir fry until heated and separated.
6. Pour the reserved sauce over the rice, add the stir-fried garlic and brussel sprouts, and add the cilantro and scallions. Mix everything together well (making sure the sauce evenly coats all the rice), remove from the heat, and serve.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, vegetarian

- Pete

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Gluten-Free Mix Tape

Ahh, mix tapes. I remember them well from the late 1980s and 1990s. Those of you too young to know what a mix tape is, it is this: in the days before CDs and MP3s and iTunes, we made custom compilation "albums" on cassettes. They were immortalized in John Cusack's movie, High Fidelity, from 2000.

If you were in love, you made a mix tape for that special someone. If you had unrequited love, you made a mix tape to ease your longing, or maybe to win his or her heart. If you had just broken up, you made a broken-hearted mix tape in which to drown your sorrows, or perhaps to let that formerly-special-someone know just how badly your heart had been broken. Heck, my high school lacrosse team (Go Dalers!) even had a mix tape of psych up songs that we played before games.

I made my fair share of mix tapes. They were usually a combination of songs I'd recorded onto cassette directly off the radio, carefully sitting by the stop button to avoid capturing commercials, and songs I dubbed onto a cassette from store-bought "albums," using a dual-cassette deck. (My first store-bought cassettes were a wild mix of classical pieces by Mozart and Beethoven and two albums by Poison. How's that for eclectic taste in a young kid?)

I suppose the modern-day version of a mix tape would be giving someone an iPod carefully preloaded with tunes. But it's just not the same. Today it's too easy to just build a playlist and dump the songs onto an MP3 device. The thing about mix tapes was that they took time to make. If your tape deck didn't have a high speed dub feature, then you were literally building the mix tape in real time, song by song, spending an hour or more sitting at your stereo, carefully planning when to switch the cassette to side B so that side A didn't end with a half-clipped song.

As you can see, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today. In that spirit, I've decided to make a gluten-free mix tape for you. It only has three songs, and each song - I hope - captures one of the three stages of universal experience upon going gluten-free:

1. A sense of loss and the challenges of living without gluten
2. Moving on
3. Feeling healthy and living a happy gluten-free life

And so, without further ado, I give you...

Hard Habit to Break, by Chicago (a breaking up love song between you and gluten)

Now being with you
Takes a lot of getting used to
Should learn to live with it
But I don't want to
...
I'm addicted to ya babe
You're a hard habit to break

Don't Need U, by LeToya Luckett (moving on)

It's time to pick my head up, baby
Learn how to be better, baby
This heartbreak ends today
...
'Cause I'mma keep smiling, I'mma keep it moving
'Cause I don't need you, don't need you

Feeling Good, by Michael Buble (the title says it all)

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good

I hope you enjoyed the mix tape! What songs would make your list? Leave a comment and let me know!

- Pete

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Product Review: Evol Bowls

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you no doubt know about our love for burrito bowls. Whether ordering a Chipotle burrito in a bowl sans flour tortilla, or making our own burrito bowls from scratch at home, we simply love 'em. Recently, we had a chance to sample bowls of another sort when the friendly folks at Evol Foods sent us gratis samples of their Evol Bowls to review here on No Gluten, No Problem.

I immediately felt a certain kinship with the company. They're based out of Boulder, Colorado (where we still own a home and have many great friends). The company got its start when one of its founders started selling inexpensive, natural burritos to rock climbers in Eldorado Canyon (where I've spent more than a few days climbing, mountain biking and trail running). They have a commitment to natural, authentic ingredients (for example, one bowl contains organic brown rice, free range white meat chicken breast, wheat-free teriyaki sauce, evaporated cane syrup, honey, cornstarch, ginger, garlic, snap peas, broccoli, carrots and bell peppers). And they have a commitment to green practices and packaging (for example, the Evol Bowl boxes are 100% recyclable and made from 100% recycled paper board, and the bowls themselves are 100% compostable).

One question I raised right away with Evol was this: as a company that got its start making gluten-ous burritos, how do they minimize the potential for cross-contamination with their gluten-free bowls, and do they do any in-house or third party gluten testing to confirm? I'm happy to report the answer: in addition to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Standard Sanitation Operation Procedures (SSOPs), they practice product and manufacturing line segregation. Most importantly, they test their bowls to ensure that they contain less than 10ppm gluten, a level twice as stringent as the 20ppm international "standard." Good news.

The bowls come in four flavors: Teriyaki Chicken, Chicken Enchilada, Bean and Cheese Enchilada, and Fire Grilled Steak.

A serving size is one bowl. Even before cooking them, it was apparent that they contained quality, fresh, flash-frozen ingredients. They were relatively small portions...for my appetite, I'd consider one bowl a snack-meal, something slightly larger than a snack, but not big enough to be a stand-alone meal. But that's me. With a calorie count ranging from 250 to 420 per bowl, and a net weight of 9 ounces (just over half a pound) you can decide for yourself.

From an allergen and dietary standpoint, one bowl - the bean and cheese enchilada - is vegetarian. 3 out of the 4 (with the exception of teriyaki chicken) contain cheese, so the dairy-free folks among us won't find many options.

The only question that remained was, from a taste perspective, would we be feeling the Evol love or not? (If you haven't noticed, the company's name is "love" spelled backwards, a nod to how much these folks love their burritos...)

Teriyaki Chicken
Had a good, clean flavor. The chicken tasted a bit microwaved (which it was, as per the box instructions, which also list an oven alternative). Overall, a success.

Chicken Enchilada
Kelli and I disagreed on some points, and agreed on others. My comments: a little bland; a little pasty; not as successful as the teriyaki chicken; in our microwave, which has a turntable, the edges reached boiling point while the center remained frozen. Kelli's comments: chicken seasoned well; tastes like an enchilada; flavorful sauce; like the sweet corn; I get the lime in the rice; texturally, all a bit mushy; the tortilla breaks down.

Fire Grilled Steak
Initially, I questioned whether the beef was too sparse, and not in balance with the rest of the bowl's ingredients. By the end, seemed okay. Nice corn. The peppers got a little soft and lost their texture. Black beans turned into more of a bean paste. The cilantro lime pesto was one of the stars of the show. Very flavorful. The corn was authentically charred and very sweet. Nice. Kelli's sentiments: "Oh yeah. Sweet red pepper and corn. Mmmm. That's really good. Head and shoulders above the rest."

Bean and Cheese Enchilada
Saucier than its chicken enchilada counterpart. I preferred the red enchilada sauce here over the green enchilada sauce of the chicken. Kelli's initial comments: it's good; neither enchilada is excellent, but both are tasty; I like it. I scooped up some of the enchilada filling on a salted hard corn tortilla chip, and liked that much better. A very tasty combo. Kelli liked it just as well without the chips. The more we both ate this bowl, the more we liked it. Very good.

Overall, we loved the company, and liked the bowls. All the flavors are good, though some are better than others. We're not in the habit of buying convenience foods from the freezer section, but if we did, Evol Bowls would definitely make the cut.

- Pete


Image courtesy of Evol Foods.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Foto: Cilantro Pesto


The official calendar start of spring is just 10 days away. Although part of me is not yet ready to let winter go, we're particularly excited for the coming spring because, for the first time, we've rented a 20'x20' plot at a local community garden. It's located just one mile down the road from our house, at the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve.

We've bought our seeds, we're planning and prepping, and soon, it'll be growing season. I predict that, over the course of the coming months, this blog and our recipes will feature lots of fresh, homegrown produce. (Yeah!)

Cilantro will likely be one of our first harvests. It grows quickly, and it dislikes heat, preferring sunshine but cooler weather. This makes it thrive particularly well during spring. To that end, today we're featuring cilantro in an unconventional but very tasty pesto. Traditionally made with basil and pine nuts, this alternative pesto instead uses cilantro and walnuts.


Cilantro Pesto
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 cup extra light olive oil
1 cup walnuts
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tsp jalapeno pepper, de-seeded
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced or cubed
6 oz GF pasta (about 1-2 cups, depending on the noodle)

Steps
To make the pesto:
1. Combine all ingredients through and including the apple cider vinegar in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

To prepare the dish as photographed: 
2. Boil your favorite GF pasta.
3. Meanwhile, sautee the chicken in a little bit of olive oil in a skillet until done.
4. Strain the pasta, and combine with the chicken in the same pot used to boil the pasta.
5. Add the pesto, toss to evenly coat, and serve.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free.

Note: The recipe is easily made vegetarian and vegan by omitting the chicken. If doing so, add vegetables and other ingredients to bolster the nutrition. (Unless you simply have a craving for a big old bowl of pasta...)

- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays post.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

If Movies Were Gluten-Free

The Oscars are just a week and a half behind us, which means I still have movies on my mind. More specifically, I now have a long list of DVDs to rent of great movies that I haven't yet seen. Every year, it seems, the Academy Awards remind me what terrible movie-goers Kelli and I can be. In the seven-plus years we've been married, we've averaged less than one trip to the movie theater per year. Perhaps it's time to re-start our Netflix membership... but I digress (as usual).

Over the years, more than a few great movies have featured food scenes that have become classic. Who can forget the plate of shared spaghetti and that slurped noodle leading to a kiss in Lady and the Tramp? Or that famous line from the Godfather: "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

One of the ultimate food movie scenes (in a movie with several classic scenes) must be Meg Ryan as super-picky, compulsive and particular Sally ordering apple pie in When Harry Met Sally.

To the bewilderment of her waitress, she orders "apple pie a la mode... but I'd like the pie heated, and I don't want the ice cream on top. I want it on the side. And I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it's real. If it's out of a can, then nothing."

"Not even the pie?" responds the waitress.

"No, just the pie. But then not heated."

I like to think how that scene might have played out differently if Sally were gluten-free. I imagine it would have gone something like this:

"I'll have the apple pie a la mode... but only if the pie is gluten-free. Is the crust gluten-free? If not, I'll just have the apple pie filling, but only if it never touched the pie crust, and only if there's no flour mixed in with the apples. Do you use cornstarch? And please make sure to use a separate clean spoon to scoop the apples. Otherwise, I'll just have the ice cream. Do you happen to have dairy-free ice cream? Some people with gluten issues are also lactose intolerant, you know. On second thought, I'll just have a fruit cup."

What are some of your favorite classic movie food scenes? Extra credit: If the food - or the person eating it - isn't gluten-free, re-imagine how that scene might have been different, and leave it in the comments!

- Pete

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Foto: Butternut Squash Ravioli


Mother Nature's been a little fickle in our neck of the woods lately. We've had a few warm days here and there that have hinted at the coming spring. But we've also had a return to bitterly cold winter temperatures. (It was 16 degrees when I went for my run early this morning...) One thing is for sure, though. At least according to the calendar, winter is still officially with us for two more full weeks. In keeping with our theme of seasonal, hearty winter dishes, today we bring you butternut squash ravioli.

It uses the from-scratch pasta dough recipe you'll find in our first cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, and pairs it with a butternut squash filling. The sweetness of the squash, paired with garlic, shallots and nutmeg, makes for a rich, flavorful combo. Meanwhile, a sage sauce pulls the entire dish together.

If you have any misgivings about making from-scratch pasta dough, and then using it to make from-scratch ravioli, it can be a little labor intensive, but isn't nearly as difficult as you might think. Check out these two previous blog posts on the topic for step-by-step photos:

1. Making gluten-free pasta dough
2. Making gluten-free ravioli

A couple of notes modifying the instructions in those posts:

1. We like to use our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend to make the pasta dough, supplemented with a touch of xanthan gum and salt. Most all-purpose GF flour mixes should also do the trick.
2. For the butternut squash ravioli recipe below, making the pasta dough using a ratio of 3 cups flour to 4 whole eggs should yield enough pasta to make a full batch of 36 ravioli.


Butternut Squash Ravioli
Makes 4 servings (about 36 ravioli)

Ingredients
For the filling:
2 cups roasted butternut squash (approx 1/2 a medium to large squash)
1 tbsp butter
1 garlic clove, minced
2 shallots, minced
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper


1 batch gluten-free pasta dough

For the sauce:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
30 sage leaves (about 1/2 ounce), chiffonade
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp vegetable stock

Steps
To roast the squash:
1. Preheat your oven to 400 deg F. Slice the squash in half lengthwise, and roast face-down in an olive oiled pan for 45 min. Scoop out the flesh and mash.

To make the filling:
2. Melt the butter in a pan and sautee the garlic and shallots until the garlic is fragrant and the shallots are soft and translucent.
3. Combine with the squash, add the nutmeg, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir to mix well.

To make the ravioli:
4. Roll out the pasta dough into a very thin sheet, and cut into equal-size squares as large as you like your ravioli. (We usually shoot for 2 to 2.5 inches square. A long straight edge and pizza cutter works great for making consistent cuts.)
5. Place a dollop of filling onto one square, use a finger moistened with water or egg wash (egg white mixed with some water) to wet the edges of the square. Place a matching square over the top, press around the edges with your fingers to seal, and if desired, use the tines of a fork to further press the edges together and create a nice visual effect for your ravioli.
6. Boil the ravioli in batches in a pot of boiling salted water, boiling the ravioli for 3 to 4 minutes once they have floated back to the surface of the water.

To make the sauce:
7. Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the butter to melt, and sautee the garlic and sage until fragrant.
8. Add the vegetable stock and reduce slightly to intensify the flavor and thicken the sauce.

To plate:
9. Toss the ravioli in the sauce and serve, spooning additional sauce over the ravioli once plated.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free, vegetarian

Finally, one additional note about preparing this dish: This recipe is great when you can tag-team with a partner in the kitchen. When Kelli and I last made it, she roasted the squash and made the filling while I made the pasta dough and rolled out and cut the ravioli. We both filled the ravioli. Then I boiled the ravioli while she made the sauce.

However, if you're flying solo in the kitchen, I'd recommend the following order of operations: 1) Roast the squash. 2) While the squash is roasting, make the pasta dough, then wrap in plastic to keep fresh. 3) Make the filling. 4) Roll out the pasta dough, cut the ravioli squares, and fill. While this is happening, bring your pot of water to a boil. 5) Boil the ravioli in batches. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.

- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays post.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

GFamily Ties... Clarifying the Meaning of Gluten

It can be a confusing thing, that uncertain time after a diagnosis when you go gluten-free. What can you safely eat? And what is off limits?

The simple and obvious answer is a) that you don't eat gluten (wheat, barley and rye, and their relatives and derivatives), and b) that you may eat those grains and pseudo-cereals that are considered gluten-free (corn, rice, sorghum, millet, teff, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth). (And then there's oats which, if they're GF are okay, but if they're cross-contaminated are not...)

But let me offer you this trick question: If you're gluten-free, can you eat - and do you eat - gluten? At first blush, your response is probably something along the lines of Of course not! Hang on, though. Consider this:

When you start poking your head around the world of gluten-ous and gluten-free grains, you'll eventually and inevitably come up against seeming oxymorons, combinations that conventional wisdom say are mutually exclusive. Such as references to "corn gluten." (Seriously. "Corn gluten" is a common term...in the UK, in animal feed and lawn weed treatments, and in the GF medical community. Don't believe me? Do a Google search...)

If you're just starting out on the gluten-free journey, and even if you've been on that journey for a while, seeing "corn" and "gluten" together can be more than a little unsettling. Wait, you think. Corn is supposed to be gluten-free. But corn gluten? Is that safe? Can I eat it? It can make your head spin.

Time for a lesson in cereal science. You've probably read - or been taught - that gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and it's the cause of your troubles. That's a simplified part truth. Reality is a bit more complicated.

All grains pretty much contain four types of protein, in varying ratios and to greater or lesser degrees: glutelin, prolamin, albumin, and globulin. "Gluten," in the biggest picture sense, refers to the seed storage proteins...glutelin and prolamin. There's take home lesson #1: gluten = glutelin + prolamin. What this means, of course, is that since both gluten-ous and gluten-free grains contain glutelin and prolamin, in some sense, you do eat gluten even when you're gluten-free. (Unless you're completely grain-free, which absolves you of these nuances altogether...)

What has happened, though, is that the medical community, the media, the blogosphere, and the general public have unintentionally co-opted the term "gluten" to refer to the family of seed storage proteins (plural) in wheat, barley and rye that make people with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance sick. Some who insist on an even stricter use of the term "gluten" suggest that it only refers to the proteins in wheat. Meanwhile, the gluten proteins of other grains such as corn and rice, since they don't make the Celiac and gluten intolerant population sick, are not considered gluten. The result is a situation where "gluten" refers to some gluten, but not all gluten. Just the "bad" gluten. Got that?

So we have gluten-ous gluten-containing grains, and we have gluten-free gluten-containing grains. Sheesh.

The difference comes down to who's in what family. It's a grain version of the Jets and the Sharks, or the Hatfields and the McCoys. On one side, you've got Triticae (wheat, barley, rye, spelt, etc.). On the other side, you have everyone else. And Triticae's gluten (bad) is different than everyone else's gluten (not bad).

As researchers have increasingly been finding out, it's the prolamin part of gluten that causes most of the problems for those of us that are Celiac or gluten intolerant. In wheat, the prolamin is gliadin; in barley, hordein; and in rye, secalin. (For those who are interested, the prolamins in other grains are: oats have avenin, corn has zein, rice has oryzin, and sorghum has kafirin, for a few examples.)

All of this may seem like silly semantic differences, and more info that you need to navigate daily life. To a degree, that's true. But on the other hand, when you come face to face with a reference to "corn gluten," you're hip to the game. You know that gluten is at once a broad umbrella term (referring to all cereal storage proteins) and also one that's been borrowed for a very specific use (to identify those foods, made from the specific cereals of wheat, barley and rye, that aren't safe for people with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance to eat).

You now know that "bad gluten" is actually glutelin (glutenin in wheat, glutelin in barley and rye) plus prolamin (gliadin, hordein or secalin). And you know that "neutral gluten" is found in the gluten-free grains, yielding a quirky sort of grain quantum dynamics or theory of relativity; a gluten form of the wave-particle duality, or the Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment, in which two divergent possibilities simultaneously and paradoxically coexist - a gluten-free grain which contains gluten (but not bad gluten).

Remember: in the course of everyday living, if you're gluten-free, then gluten is bad and off-limits. All the usual rules apply. Wheat, barley and rye are bad. Other grains are okay. And yes, corn IS considered gluten-free.

But I hope that this more detailed, behind the scenes look at gluten (both big picture gluten and bad-for-you gluten) empowers you to be a more knowledgeable consumer and foodie who can be a better advocate for your diet and health.

- Pete

P.S. Not to confuse the above post, but to also clarify... when you read about "glutinous rice," it - like corn - is gluten-free. There's a distinction between glutenous and glutinous. The difference between an "e" and an "i" is everything. In the context of rice, we're referring to a particular variety of sticky rice that gets sticky and gluey - hence glutinous - when cooked. But it sure isn't glutenous. That's another thing altogether.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bull and Buddha, Poughkeepsie, NY

The 2-ton behind-the-bar Thai Buddha at Bull and Buddha
Ever since it opened in September 2010, it seems that Poughkeepsie's hip new Bull and Buddha - an Asian fusion restaurant on a slowly re-energizing stretch of Main Street - has been the subject of mostly rave reviews in the likes of publications such as Hudson Valley Magazine and the Poughkeepsie Journal. Plenty of people have been singing B&B's praises.

The response on community-supported websites such as Yelp, Urban Spoon, and Trip Advisor has been decidedly more mixed. There's been plenty of glowing praise there, too, but also some strong criticism, pointed mostly toward slow service and disappointing entrees.

We drive by B&B pretty regularly, and so when an intense craving for sushi hit, we knew exactly where we were headed. We ended up visiting twice (so far), about one month apart - once in January and once in February; once on a midweek night and once on a Friday night at about 6:30pm.

The luminescent sushi bar
Before ever setting foot inside B&B, I called ahead to make sure they'd be able to accommodate our gluten-free dietary needs. While they didn't have a gluten-free menu, the hostess on the phone assured me they'd be able to offer options. And although B&B didn't have any GF soy sauce in-house, they were totally fine with us bringing our own tamari wheat-free soy sauce from home.

The decor - though not centrally important to a GF restaurant review - was hip. As its Asian fusion status implies, B&B combines authentic Thai and other Asian elements with modern swanky sensibilities. An outer bar/lounge area - home of the giant Buddha pictured above - leads to the sushi bar, which in turn leads to a large, dimly lit dining area.

Our server was invaluable in helping us navigate the menu. When we explained our dietary restrictions, she disappeared into the kitchen to consult with the chef, and returned with a handwritten list of naturally GF menu items, as well as other menu items that could be prepared GF, along with instructions for how to order (e.g. order the House Cured Salmon, minus the wonton chips).

With this information in hand, we commenced to order the Tuna Tataki Small Plates appetizer (served with black rice and passion fruit-ginger syrup...divine), and an assorted spread of sushi, including the Bull and Buddha California Roll (made with whole snow crab leg meat...also divine). As we waited for our appetizer and then sushi to come out, we received a complimentary bowl of edamame hummus (brought out by the secondary wait staff that supports the primary servers). It was delicious - silky smooth, with pureed edamame taking the place of chick peas and tahini. We ate it (happily) by the forkful, for lack of a rice cracker (it is normally served with wonton crisps).

Bull and Buddha California Roll
On our return visit to B&B, we placed a small bottle of tamari wheat-free soy sauce in the bottle holder pocket of the diaper bag and headed over to the restaurant sans reservation. Though we were probably there a little early for the Friday night crowd, we were seated immediately at 6:30pm. By coincidence, we were seated in the same section as last time, and the same server was working. Now granted, a couple in their thirties dining at a swanky sushi place with a 2-year-old and 7-month-old probably sticks out a bit. But we were impressed...the server not only recognized us, but also remembered that we were gluten-free. That attention to detail spoke volumes to us.

This time around, we skipped the apps and went straight to the sushi: multiple Bull and Buddha California Rolls, a Christmas Roll (tuna, avocado, cucumber, caviar), a Fusion Roll (tuna, yellowtail, salmon, avocado, caviar), and the Spicy Hamachi (yellowtail with scallions and spicy sauce). (Prices seem reasonable to us: standard rolls cost $4.50-$6.50 each, and include 8 pieces, while specialty rolls cost $8-$13.50 each, and include 6 large pieces.) All the sushi was unilaterally excellent. Fresh fish. Clean flavors. Well balanced. Our sushi craving was highly satisfied.

And to our pleasant surprise, our server brought out a bottle of Kikkoman's new Gluten-Free Soy Sauce, made with water, soybeans, rice and alcohol. Bonus. It seemed that B&B was getting up to speed on "the gluten-free thing."

The one disappointment was the edamame hummus. We had to request it, whereas it was automatically brought out on our previous visit. (Perhaps an oversight on the part of the secondary wait staff?) This time, instead of being silky smooth, it was grainy. And the hummus was effervescent. Our first reaction was that maybe it had gone bad. Or that a different chef had made it that night, with a different recipe or balance of ingredients. That inconsistency has been one of the few critiques we can level upon Bull and Buddha.

We'll definitely return for more. If we can resist the call of the sushi menu, we might even manage to branch out and try some entrees. Hopefully next time, they'll have a printed GF menu. That seems a logical next step for them. In the meantime, here's a sampling of GF menu items from the handwritten note from our server:

Small Plates
Edamame
Tuna Tataki (served with black rice and passion fruit-ginger syrup)
House Cured Salmon (served with lemon-white pepper goat cheese and chive oil; order without wonton chips)

Salads
Mixed Greens (served with shredded carrots, bean sprouts, and sesame-ginger dressing)
Emperor Salad (served with crisp romaine, creamy sesame-caesar dressing, and tofu "croutons")
Asian Pear, Frisee, and Shredded Endive (served with plum wine-balsamic vinaigrette, crumbled goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts)

Noodle Dishes
Pad Thai (served with a house sauce)

Entrees
Wasabi Pea Crusted Salmon (served with chinese black rice, sake braised bok choy, cucumber coulis and basil oil)


There are many more options, but the ordering - what to keep and what to omit from a dish - gets a bit more intricate. In the interest of your safety, I've left them out here so you can discuss specifics with your server. Even for the dishes listed above, please double check to ensure that recipes haven't changed and that they can still be prepared safely gluten-free!

- Pete

P.S. Please forgive the one lousy photo of sushi. On our first visit, we didn't bring a camera. On our second visit, we devoured our entire order of sushi so quickly that it wasn't until we were finished that I realized - Shoot! I didn't take a photo! So we hastily ordered one more roll, which I tried to photograph in the very dim light of the restaurant. =)