Thursday, January 31, 2013

Eggplant Cannelloni


It's tempting to want to say that each recipe we post has some romantic or otherwise alluring and involved story behind it. But the reality is, sometimes the inspiration for a meal is surprisingly simple and mundane. Case in point: this delightful eggplant cannelloni.

We'd like to say our grand vision was to conjure feelings of dining at your favorite red-and-white checkered tablecloth Italian-American restaurant, drinking a strong chianti. In truth, eggplants were on sale at our local market. Simple as that.

Yet, the end result is no less fulfilling. This dish does remind us of that Italian-American dining experience, and we think it will for you, too.

This cannelloni—like its cousin, manicotti—is based on "tubes" filled with a combination of mozzarella and ricotta. Traditionally, the sauce could be either a red sauce, as we did here, or a white sauce. Manicotti are made using whole tubes of extruded pasta, while cannelloni are made using sheets of pasta (and in some early recipes, even crepes) that are rolled. True to that tradition, we swap out the pasta and substitute eggplant.

You won't miss the pasta, gluten-free or not. Eggplant plays the part wonderfully.


Eggplant Cannelloni
Makes 12–15 cannelloni, 4–5 servings

Ingredients
1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz shredded mozzarella
15 oz ricotta
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 24-oz jar tomato sauce

Steps
1. Cut the ends off the eggplant. Then slice lengthwise into 2mm-thick slices using a mandolin. If you don't have a mandolin, just use a knife to make lengthwise cuts as thin as you can. (Compost or otherwise discard each end cut that is pretty much all skin. You should retain 12 to 15 slices.)
2. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, garlic powder, and salt.
3. Preheat a grill over medium-high heat to circa 375 deg F.
4. Use a brush to coat both sides of each eggplant slice. Use additional oil if necessary.
5. Grill about two minutes per side, so that the eggplant is tender.
6. In a medium bowl, combine the mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper to make the filling.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F.
8. In a 9x9 baking pan or casserole dish, pour 1/3 of the tomato sauce to cover the bottom.
9. Place 2 to 4 tbsp of filling on each eggplant, depending on the size of the slice. Roll them up, and place in the pan side by side, with the seam on the bottom.
10. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the top of the cannelloni.
11. Bake for 30–40 minutes, until the edges bubble.
12. If desired, garnish with chopped parsley and/or Parmesan.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, corn-free, egg-free, vegetarian.

Notes
In lieu of grilling, you can also saute the eggplant in a skillet over medium heat.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII: A Gluten-Free Recipe Roundup


Last year's Super Bowl XLVI—featuring the Giants and Patriots—was the most-watched television event in American history, drawing in more than 111 million viewers. That's roughly one out of every three Americans. Holy smokes.

This year promises to be an attention getter as well, for the first time pitting head coach brother against head coach brother (in the Ravens' and 49ers' John and Jim Harbaugh, respectively). Will you be watching the big game?

If so, these tasty gluten-free foods could be the perfect addition to your football watching:

Pizzas
Cast Iron Skillet Pizza
Grilled Pizza
San Marzano Deep Dish Pizza
Spicy Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Pub-style Finger Foods
Mozzarella Sticks
Breaded Chicken Fingers
BBQ Country-Style Ribs
Sesame Soy Chicken Tenders
French Fries
Caramelized Onion and Sweet Corn Salsa

Fun Desserts
Ice Cream Sandwiches
Mexican Chocolate Mesquite Brownies
Jelly Donut Holes
Beignets (after all, the Super Bowl is in New Orleans this year!)

–Pete

Image courtesy vancanjay / SXC.hu

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Much is the Gluten-Free Tax Deduction Really Worth?


Last week's blog post about the U.S. gluten-free tax write-off and why I believe it's a flawed system sparked much conversation. Some were excited about the opportunity of the deduction, others noted the difficulty in reaching the threshold at which you can start taking the deduction and the onerous record-keeping requirements, others agreed with my assessment (in particular the emphasis on whole foods, which cost the same no matter what diet you adhere to), and still others criticized me of being insensitive to those in income-strained situations, for whom the deduction might offer needed financial relief.

This week, I'm exploring how much the gluten-free deduction is really worth. I don't expect anyone—us or you—to share the particulars of your personal or family financial situation. So I've built this illustration using publicly available data about the average American family.

According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, median family income is $61,455. That means that, in order to reach the 7.5% threshold at which you could start taking the deduction, your combined medical expenses (copays, deductibles, prescription drugs, the premium payed for gluten-free foods) would need to reach $4,609.

However, according to the 2012 Milliman Medical Index—which looked at medical costs for an average family of four with two school-age kids and with an employer-sponsored PPO health plan—the average American family pays $3,470 in out of pocket medical expenses per year. When you do the math, you'll see that you'd need the annual premium paid for GF foods (above and beyond the base price you'd normally pay for those foods) to exceed $1,100, just to reach the 7.5% threshold.

According to the Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the average American family spends $236.60 per week on groceries, or about $12,300 per year (a number that's expected to climb 5% in 2013). But how much extra cost are you likely to bear when purchasing specialty GF foods?

I compiled a hypothetical shopping list of gluten-free foods to use for this example. It's far more than we buy as a family, but I think it will more closely resemble the purchasing patterns of an average American gluten-free family.

Weekly Purchases

Bread
2 loaves (Udi's Gluten-Free Whole Grain at $6 per loaf vs. Stone Ground Wheat at $4.50 per loaf)

Pasta
1 pound spaghetti (Tinkyada at $2.50 vs. Barilla at $2.00)

Cereal
2 boxes (Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise at $4.50 and GF Cinnamon Rice Chex at $3.50 vs. Total at $4.00 and Frosted Mini Wheats at $3.00)

Crackers
2 boxes (Glutino at $5 per box vs. Triscuits at $4 per box)

Pizza
2 crusts (Udi's gluten-free at $6.50 per 2-pack vs. Mama Mary's at $6 per 2-pack)

Cookies
1 box (Pamela's chocolate chunk at $4 per 7.25-oz box vs. half the value of Chips Ahoy at $3.50 per 13.75-oz box)

Bagels
1 bag (Udi's gluten-free at $7.00 per bag of 4 vs. ShopRite plain at $2.50 per bag of 6)

Bi-weekly Purchases

Pancake/Baking Mix
1 box (Bob's Red Mill gluten-free at $5 vs. Aunt Jemima at $4)

Cake/Brownie Mix
1 box (Betty Crocker gluten-free at $4.50 vs. Betty Crocker Traditional Brownie Mix at $3)

These prices come from Netgrocer, Vitacost, GlutenFreeMall, and in some instances, from the companies themselves in the equivalent of an MSRP.

When you total up all these extra costs—the difference between the GF and standard version, multiplied by the quantity you buy per year based on these frequencies and quantities—the annual premium you pay for all these specialty GF foods is about $780. That leaves you more than $350 shy of being able to start deducting any further costs in excess of 7.5% of your AGI. Thus, in this example, the gluten-free tax deduction is worth nothing.

Of course, many factors will affect the balance of these numbers: your family's adjusted gross income, your actual non-food out of pocket medical expenses, regional cost of living differences that impact grocery prices, the size of your family and how much food you eat, how many GF specialty foods you buy, and the addition to this list of prepared GF convenience foods from the freezer section (ready-to-bake pizzas, mac-and-cheese, chicken fingers, etc.), are just a few. The results will be highly individual, and for some, the deduction may—and does—result in a reduction in federal taxes.

But for many of us, there's little to no value in the deduction, which means that you're fully bearing the added cost of all those GF specialty foods. For me, this highlights two important points: 1) It underscores my emphasis on naturally gluten-free whole foods (fruits, veggies, meat, fish, eggs, etc.), which are healthier for you than many of these processed foods and which cost no more or less whether you're gluten-free or not. 2) It points to the need for potential reform, because the deduction isn't helping alleviate financial burden in the way it otherwise should.

What's your opinion? Have you tracked your GF expenses, and if so, have you been able to take a deduction? How much was it worth?

–Pete

Image courtesy Brokenarts / SXC.hu

Friday, January 25, 2013

White Wine Tarragon Chicken


Our streak of using our new cast iron skillet nearly every day continues. We seriously love the thing; we're more excited about it than any other addition to our kitchen implements in recent memory.

It was only an inevitable matter of time before we used the skillet to make chicken in a pan sauce, along the lines of our Chicken Vesuvio and Orange-Herb Chicken recipes. This time, the flavor combo was white wine and tarragon.

It's richly flavorful and straightforward to make, and aside from dredging the chicken in a bit of GF flour, it's naturally gluten-free. We paired it with some fresh salad and oven-roasted cauliflower (plus some white wine, of course!), but it would work well with all sorts of combinations for sides.


White Wine Tarragon Chicken
Makes 3 breasts

Ingredients
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, flattened
2 tbsp Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced (~ 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white wine
1 cup GF chicken broth
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

Steps
1. Season the flour with the salt and pepper. Then dredge the chicken.
2. Cook the chicken in 1 tbsp butter and the olive oil over medium heat, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.
3. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat, about 3 minutes, until soft.
4. Add the wine and broth and bring to a boil over high heat.
5. Add 1 tbsp tarragon, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Add the remaining 2 tbsp butter, return the chicken to the pan, and cook over medium-low heat for an additional 5 minutes.
7. Garnish with the remaining 1 tbsp tarragon.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free.

This recipe is easily made dairy/casein/lactose-free by omitting the butter (and using additional olive oil as needed) or by substituting your favorite non-dairy butter alternative.

This recipe is easily made corn-free by dredging the chicken in a GF flour blend that doesn't use cornstarch.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Gluten-Free Tax Write-Off, and Why It's Flawed


If Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year, then we've definitely moved into the second most wonderful time of the year: tax season, that glorious period between January 1 and April 15 when we all, to greater and lesser degrees, become accountants.

Inevitably, this brings up a new round of blogs and articles highlighting the gluten-free tax write-off. Here's a basic primer on how it works: a) you must qualify, and b) you must keep detailed records and receipts.

Qualification

In order to qualify for a gluten-free tax write-off, you must have an official medical diagnosis from your doctor of celiac disease or another recognized condition that warrants strict lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. And you must also have a formal prescription that specifies a gluten-free diet as your course of treatment.

Accounting

The premise of the tax write-off is that gluten-free foods cost more than "regular" foods, and therefore you're entitled to write off that portion of your expenses which are in excess of what you might normally expect to spend on regular versions of the same foods. For example, if a regular version of the food costs $3, and the gluten-free version costs $5, you may write off $2.

But it's not quite that simple. This gluten-free "premium" is aggregated together with other qualifying medical expenses, such as medical co-pays, prescription meds, etc. The lump sum total in excess of 7.5% of your gross income is the portion you actually get to write off on your taxes.

And of course, you need to keep detailed, accurate records: grocery store receipts, plus the gluten-ous benchmarks against which you're calculating the GF premium.

The Case for the Write-Off

If you were still eating gluten and getting sick, you'd be writing off all sorts of medical expenses—more co-pays, medication, tests, etc. (assuming the total of these expenses exceeded 7.5% of your income). On a gluten-free diet, you're in theory avoiding incurring all those costs on the medical system, and so shouldn't you be able to write off your marginal cost increases for food, which replace the standard medical expenses?

And as researchers refine other treatment protocols (pills, enzyme therapy, vaccines, and who knows what else), those future treatments will be qualifying medical expenses. As another (and to date, the only known effective) option, shouldn't diet be a qualifying medical expense as well?

Other countries, such as Italy, offer stipend to offset cost of maintaining GF diet. Shouldn't U.S. GF folks have some sort of financial relief as well?

Problems With the System

But there are fundamental problems with the system, and I'm not convinced that those of us who are gluten-free for medical reasons should be entitled to write off our food expenses. I'll explain.

Room for abuse
First, like many systems, the fairly open-ended nature of the write-off leaves plenty of room open for abuse. For example, I haven't seen any tax guidelines specifying that you must benchmark like with like. In theory, you could purchase an expensive GF version of a product, and benchmark it against a cheap, budget, brand x "standard" version of the food, thus maximizing the price difference (and hence, your tax write-off), even though that constitutes something of an apples to oranges comparison.

Imperfect accounting
Second, the accounting system is imperfect. For example, if you buy Pamela's chocolate chunk cookies and benchmark them against Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, both from Walmart (for the sake of this illustration), you're looking at a base price difference of $3.96 vs. $2.50. But Pamela's package includes 207 grams of cookies (9 cookies x 23 grams per cookie), but the Chips Ahoy package includes 363 grams of cookies (11 servings x 33 grams per serving). Should you scale the prices to common portion sizes? Fundamentally, you're paying more but getting less with Pamela's, so a straight $3.96 vs. $2.50 doesn't fully capture the increased cost of the gluten-free version.

And what about naturally gluten-free specialty products such as Mary's Gone Crackers, which are enjoyed equally by gluten-eating and gluten-free folks alike. Should you be able to compare Mary's Gone Crackers to Triscuits or some other wheat-based cracker, and write off the difference, even though a product such as Mary's isn't first and foremost a specialty food meant to meet the dietary needs of the gluten-free community?

Myriad factors affect grocery bills
Further, the price differences between gluten-free and gluten-ous foods is just one of many, many food purchasing decisions we make that affect price and our weekly grocery bill. What about the family (like us) who chooses to spend many times more on real, pure maple syrup than to buy the imitation fake stuff made with corn syrup, caramel coloring, imitation flavors, and artificial colors, because we believe the real thing to be better and healthier for us? Or the person who opts for organic produce, or pastured meat and eggs, or sustainably harvested seafood? All of these decisions will raise your grocery bill, and all of these decisions potentially come with real and tangible positive health and environmental impacts. I don't think anyone would strenuously argue that we write-off the added costs of these food choices. What makes gluten-free different?

I know what you might say: we HAVE to do gluten-free, it's not a choice. True, but that brings me to my final point.

Subsidizing junk food?
Whether you can eat gluten or you're gluten-free, the core of a healthy diet comes down to the same foods—vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole gluten-free grains (such as rice and quinoa), whole meats and fish, eggs, and if you can, dairy. Their costs are the same, whether you're gluten-free or not.

Which means that the gluten-free foods you're writing off on your taxes are very likely of the processed, refined, and/or junk food variety: store-bought bread, pizza, cookies, crackers, cake, brownies, and other indulgences. While some of those foods could be part of a healthy, balanced diet, most of them are not; they are treats. Don't get me wrong—I love my baked gluten-free sweets as much as the next person. But should you be eligible to write off such foods on your taxes? I'm not so sure. In fact, I'd wager not.

Final thoughts

It's no secret that the food we eat is intimately connected to our health. Some of that food costs more than other food—that's just life, and there are myriad reasons why different foods cost what they do (ranging from dedicated GF facilities to deep agriculture subsidies that artificially deflate the cost of certain food commodities). On the one hand, only a fool leaves money on the table, and the availability of the GF tax write-off is an opportunity that many (diligent folks) can and do pursue. But I'd argue that we need to rethink the write-off. It has room for improvement, and we might even consider abolishing it entirely.

What do you think?

–Pete

P.S. For those who've asked for citations for the IRS gluten-free tax deduction, you can refer to the following sources:

Several of these sources also include references to the various IRS rulings and other guidance documents that support and outline the deduction.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cast Iron Skillet Pizza


We've been wanting a cast iron skillet for some time now. Compared to modern, high-tech non-stick skillets, cast iron somehow seems more authentic, more in line with our perspective on cooking. It's a comparatively primitive technology that offers many benefits and has faithfully served generations of cooks.

Well, for Christmas nearly one month ago, Santa Claus (aka me) got Kelli a cast iron skillet. Hardly a day has gone by since that we haven't used it. And naturally, it was only a matter of time before we made a pizza in it.

Compared to pretty much every other pizza recipe we've shared, this one differs in two significant ways: 1) it starts on the stovetop and finishes in the oven, and 2) we don't par-bake the crust.

The result is superb. The crust develops a crispy bottom while staying delightfully chewy on the top. It's an effect similar to our grilled pizza, but without the smokiness and grill marks. Which makes this cast iron skillet pizza a great option if either a) you don't have a grill, or b) you don't like grilling in the heart of winter.


Cast Iron Skillet Pizza
Makes one 12-inch pizza

One single batch of our standard pizza dough
Olive oil
Crushed San Marzano tomatoes (such as canned)
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Dried basil
Dried oregano
Toppings (e.g. gluten-free meatballs, white onions, red bell pepper)

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 450 deg F. Preheat your cast iron skillet on the stovetop over low heat.
2. Once you've prepared the dough, drizzle olive oil into the skillet and spread to coat. Increase the heat to medium-high.
3. Taking care not to burn your hands, press the dough into skillet. The dough should completely cover the bottom of a 12-inch skillet, but not go up the sides.
4. Leaving the skillet over stovetop heat, add the sauce, dried herbs, cheese, and toppings.
5. Transfer to your 450 deg oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the toppings and cheese are done to your liking.
6. Use a spatula to transfer the pizza out of the skillet and onto a cutting board. The pizza should release easily.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, soy-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.

The recipe is easily made dairy/casein/lactose-free by substituting your favorite non-dairy cheese. It's easily made vegetarian by omitting any meat toppings. And it's easily made corn-free by substituting another starch for the cornstarch in our flour blend.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

6 Tips for Hosting a Gluten-Free Children's Party

Personal gluten-free pizza crusts, ready for toppings
Between our older daughter, Marin, recently turning four and our family attending a kid-friendly New Year's Eve fiesta, we've been giving some thought to successfully hosting a gluten-free children's party. In that spirit, we offer these 6 tips for doing it right:

1. Get the kids involved with the food.

Kids love to get their hands dirty, and they love to eat, especially when they've had a hand in preparing the meal. So why not get them involved with the food at your party? For Marin's party, each child made his or her own personal gluten-free pizza. We used the standard pizza dough recipe from Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, made several batches of dough, and formed the dough into mini crusts. The morning of the party we par-baked the crusts and let them cool on a wire rack, so that they were ready to go when the kids showed up around lunchtime. A "fixin's bar" with shredded cheese, tomato sauce, vegetables, pepperoni, and dried spices completed the setup. A taco bar is another great way to go—seasoned meat, shredded lettuce, cheese, salsa, avocado, you name it.

2. Skip the takeout/delivery. Your kitchen rules.

How many birthday parties have you been to where the meal doesn't start until the doorbell rings and the host picks up a stack of pizzas in cardboard boxes? With more and more restaurants, including pizza delivery joints, offering gluten-free options, it may be tempting to go that route, too. But take our advice and skip it. It may be convenient, but it quickly gets expensive. Plus, in our opinion the pizza (or whatever) you make at home will taste way better than whatever shows up on your front doorstep in a cardboard box.

A "fixin's bar" in the center of the table, right before the masses descended
3. Be inclusive. Reach out to other parents to find out about additional food sensitivities.

You're planning a gluten-free party so that your child can experience the joy of eating everything and not having to either go without or wait for the "special" cake or cookie that's just for him or her, while friends gobble down the main thing, whatever it is. Don't you want that inclusive experience for every child at the party? Us, too. Reach out to other parents—either in the invite or as a follow up in advance of the party—and find out about any additional food restrictions so that you can be prepared.

4. Skip #1 and go with food that easily feeds the masses.

Okay, we love the idea of kids each making their own personal pizzas, but sometimes that's just not practical and you need to go the easy route. In that case, buck tip #1 and instead go with dishes that easily feed crowds without too much effort. Think a giant tray of gluten-free baked ziti, or barbeque pulled pork with a tray of toasted gluten-free buns and a side of cole slaw or natural chips.

A celebratory—and deliciously gluten-free—birthday cake
5. Don't forget dessert!

Whether you opt for box mix brownies or from-scratch cupcakes with Italian buttercream, just because your party is gluten-free doesn't mean you need to skimp on dessert. Gluten-free baked goods can be as flavorful as any of their gluten counterparts. Also, borrowing from #1, a build-your-own-sundae approach to dessert has proven quite popular with the kiddos as well. And you don't really have to make any dessert; they do the work for you. It's a party; live a little and enjoy!

6. Treat it no different than any other party.

Sure, you may need to do a little extra planning in advance. Or maybe prep some par-baked pizza crusts. Or bake a from-scratch batch of cupcakes. But there's a good chance you would have done some of those things anyway—or outsourced them to a bakery, restaurant takeout, or caterer. At the end of the day, gluten-free children's parties are just like any other party ... youngsters gathered together to play, have fun, eat tasty food, and celebrate. While the devil sometimes hides in the details, at the end of the day, that's all there is to it!

–Pete

Friday, January 11, 2013

Italian Lemon Almond Cake


Christmas was a funny holiday for us this year. Now based once again in Colorado, we flew east to celebrate—as usual—with family. But between schedules, snowstorms, and illnesses, my family's Sicilian Christmas Eve was postponed until many days later. Even then, it was a slightly more subdued version of its usually robust self.

Kelli was feeling inspired to make a new Italian dessert for the occasion, and after some research, settled on a gluten-free version of a semolina cake. The preparation starts by making almost a polenta, to which add almond flour, sugar, eggs, and a handful of other ingredients. It's very traditional, basically only swapping fine corn meal in place of what would otherwise be semolina flour.


Italian Lemon Almond Cake
Makes one 10-inch cake, about 16 slices

Ingredients
4 cups whole milk
Pinch salt
3/4 cup fine corn meal
3/4 cup almond flour
3/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp GF almond extract
4 eggs

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 350 deg F. Grease a 10-inch springform pan.
2. Bring the milk and salt to a boil in a medium-large saucepan.
3. Add the corn meal slowly—as you would for polenta—whisking constantly.
4. Turn the heat down and simmer for 7–8 minutes, stirring frequently until very thick.
5. Whisk in the almond flour, sugar, lemon zest, and butter.
6. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. Temper the eggs by slowly adding small amounts of the "polenta" while whisking constantly. Once you've added about half the polenta to the eggs, pour the bowl's contents back into the saucepan.
7. Stir in the almond extract.
8. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 45–50 minutes, until golden on top. (After the 45–50 minutes, you can also place the cake briefly under a broiler for extra browning on top without over-cooking the cake.)
9. When cool, dust with powdered sugar. (You could also garnish the top with sliced almonds.) Refrigerate any leftovers.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Friday, January 4, 2013

Fried Calamari

Golden, fried deliciousness
On our last few visits to my native Long Island, New York, the squid (calamari) at one of our favorite South Shore fish markets has looked divine. Yet, each time we've taken a pass in favor other fresh catch that looks equally tempting: fluke, scallops, you name it.

But not this time. We finally pulled the trigger and bought some. It looked too good to resist, and we've passed over it too many times before. The only question was then how to prepare it. We flirted with the idea of doing stuffed calamari, baked in the oven. Ultimately, though, we settled on a favorite: fried calamari.

For the adventurous—the tentacles!
Fried calamari is one of those things that—to my recollection—we haven't had in the six years since going gluten-free. It's breaded or battered, after all, and typically fried in oil that has lots of other things that are breaded and/or battered. Time to change that.

We experimented with how to actually bread the calamari. At first we went the route of Standard Breading Procedure: flour, egg, bread crumbs. But that yielded a heavier breading that, while still tasty, was a bit overpowering for the more delicate calamari. We instead opted to simply dip the calamari directly in bread crumbs, using their latent moisture to pick up a lighter coating of breading.

The main bodies, sliced into familiar rings
This recipe starts with cleaned squid. Almost all fishmongers sell squid pre-cleaned, but if you need to do it yourself, there are a number of excellent tutorials, including this one. Even if your squid is already cleaned, it pays to a) rinse it well, inside and out, and b) double check that it was cleaned properly; you may find an errant piece of cartilage here or beak there.

A fresh batch turned out onto paper towels
Fried Calamari
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer

Ingredients
1 pound squid, cleaned, rinsed, and sliced into rings, tentacles reserved
1 cup finely ground Italian-seasoned gluten-free bread crumbs
Frying oil

Steps
1. Fill a pot with frying oil and heat to 350 deg F.
2. Meanwhile, toss the calamari in batches in the bread crumbs to coat evenly.
3. Deep fry in batches (to avoid overcrowding), 2 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. (Tentacles may require slightly more time.)
4. Remove from the oil and turn out onto paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

Notes
Serve solo or with your favorite fried calamari dipping sauce, such as cocktail, tartar, or remoulade.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/lactose/casein-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, soy-free

Enjoy!

–Pete

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A New Year Challenge: Cook More


I'm not one for New Year resolutions, though from time to time I've been known to offer up some suggestions. So this year, instead of a resolution, I decided to propose a New Year challenge. It's a simple one: spend more time in the kitchen.

Kitchens can serve as a hub of family activity, a place to spend quality time together. They also offer a direct connection to our health and our heritage, in the traditions of food and in the choices we make about what foods we put in our bodies. And for those of us in the gluten-free community, the kitchen is a place of empowerment, a place where you're not confined by limited menu choices at a restaurant or a defined selection of gluten-free foods at the supermarket. In the kitchen, anything is possible.

Yet, my sense is that as a nation we're spending less and less time in our kitchens. This is driven, I think, by at least two major contributing factors: convenience and choices we make about how we spend our time.

One thing Kelli and I have noticed attending gluten-free conferences, expos, fundraiser walks, and other events—especially in the Northeast—is that people crave the convenience of prepared foods. Each of the last two Octobers we've attended a major event in Westchester County, where we've brought 100–200 mini cupcakes to give away as free samples (usually a seasonally appropriate pumpkin spice cupcake with cinnamon frosting, plus a crowd-pleasing chocolate with vanilla frosting). The cupcakes often garner rave reviews—people sneak back for seconds, or they come by having heard someone else at the event talk about the cupcakes.

But we've discovered that what happens next follows a now-familiar pattern. Someone will say something along the lines of: "This is delicious! Where can I buy them?"

To which we reply: "You can't buy them… but you can make them yourself anytime you want! The recipe is in our cupcake cookbook." Insert shameless plug here.

Then you see their face sink, and they walk away having lost all interest in what moments earlier was putting a huge smile on their face. Sigh. Convenience wins (this time).

In relating this story to my mom, she's sympathetic to the convenience food lovers. People are busy these days, she says. They don't have the time to spend in the kitchen making from-scratch cupcakes or whatever.

I don't totally buy that argument. We're all busy. Getting into the kitchen is about prioritizing that aspect of your life, about making choices about how you spend your time. If being in the kitchen is important to you, you'll make it work. (Though I readily admit there are exceptions, such as the single parent working two jobs just to put food on the table in the first place…)

But consider my own example: I'm a father to two young girls; I work a full-time job; I blog as often as I can; I train for ultramarathons. All of these things place demands on my time. And though from week to week the balance shifts one way or the other, I try to spend quality time in the kitchen regularly.

And here's the wonderful thing—cooking is truly egalitarian; it's an equal opportunity endeavor; anyone can do it. Really. There's no red velvet rope and a bouncer at the entrance to your kitchen, deciding if you're worthy to enter or not.

Like two of my other passions—writing and running—cooking does not require specialized training, advanced degrees, or large amounts of money to participate. The barriers to entry are extremely low. Sure, you can hone your craft and "elevate" your participation, if you so desire. But you don't have to.

Consider running. With a few exceptions, if you have two feet, you can walk or hike or jog or run. And running doesn't require the hundreds or even thousands of dollars of equipment to participate. Writing is much the same way. Unlike other fields, such as medicine or engineering, which require advanced education and training, writing—as either a hobby or a career—is universally accessible. 

So it is with cooking.

And so, if you do one thing in 2013, I challenge you to spend more time in the kitchen. It costs little to do it, and the potential rewards are great—the food, the togetherness with family and friends, the value in making a choice to deliberately spend your time in a certain way toward positive ends, the gluten-free goodness that comes from a refrigerator and pantry matched to your dietary needs. And just imagine even greater possibilities. For example, what if the solution to America's obesity epidemic wasn't spending less time in the kitchen, but spending more, by creating healthy, from-scratch meals?

If the first days of 2013 offer anything, they offer opportunity. Seize it. Happy cooking!

–Pete

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top 10 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2012

Last year was a big one for us. It saw the release of the revised and updated second edition of our first cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, (which Delicious Living magazine recently named one of the great gluten-free cookbooks of 2012!) as well as the release of The Gluten-Free Edge. The third annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge—though plagued by injury—brought the three-year fundraising total to $9,000 in support of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. And we moved from New York to Colorado (again).

Through it all, we wrote just over 100 posts for No Gluten, No Problem. These are the top 10 most popular from 2012:

10. Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Brownies

For the monthly Ratio Rally, we served up a recipe for brownies made with Mexican chocolate and mesquite flour, topped with a basic caramel sauce.

9. Sweet Potato-Black Bean Chili

This hearty vegetarian chili is a great option for the cold winter months.

8. Chicken Cacciatore

This rustic Italian dish is as beautiful as it is richly flavorful.

7. Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Tortillas

Though we've made corn tortillas oodles of times, for the monthly Ratio Rally we served up a recipe for flexible, gluten-free flour-based tortillas, perfect for sandwich wraps, quesadillas, you name it.

6. Lime and a Coconut Cocktail

Inspired by a vacation to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the name says it all: lime and coconut (and some Caribbean rum) come together in this refreshing cocktail.

5. Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Crepes

We took the "standard" crepe and gave it a boost, creating layers of mini-crepes with dairy-free coconut-lime pastry creme in between the layers. (And what a coincidence that back-to-back most popular blog posts both featured the coconut-lime combo!)

4. Grain-Free Baked Goods & Desserts

We reviewed this cookbook by Kelly Brozyna (The Spunky Coconut). Nearly a year later, we still make her coffee cake.

3. Cranberry-Pecan Quinoa Salad

This vegetarian salad—served warm or cold—could be the star on your plate or serve as a great side.

2. Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Bread

Just three words: gluten-free challah. Enough said.

1. Wheat Belly, Busted

Our critical review of this New York Times bestseller has become a lightning rod for Wheat Belly critics and supporters alike.

And so there you have it—the most popular blog posts of 2012. Many thanks to each and everyone one of you for your support last year. May your 2013 be happy, healthy, and deliciously gluten-free.

–Pete