Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Basics for Beginners

I've focused mainly on baking in this blog, which is all fine and good, unless you've just been diagnosed, and don't want to go out and buy a ton of flours to make one simple thing. There are many everyday meals that do not require extra flours to make, or even any baking. I just want to have a simple post to give some ideas. I'll add full recipes later, and hopefully pictures, but I have to start somewhere.

For those new to the diagnosis, it just keeps getting easier to be celiac. I get a call from someone at least once a week asking for help for a friend or acquaintance new to cooking gluten free, and that's just through people I know personally. Because the diagnosis is becoming much more common, food manufacturers are becoming much more aware of gluten in their foods. Many companies now include on the packaging whether the food contains gluten or not. Which can be very helpful since simply reading labels can be far too enigmatic. I recently bought some apple cider from Celestial Seasonings, and was glad that I noticed the line on the side which read "Contains gluten". I don't know if it was the caramel color, or the maltodextrin, but at least I know that it was there in some form, and not to feed it to John. Our rule of thumb tends to be that if we're not sure, he just doesn't eat it. But, there are many ways that he stays good and healthy.

So, some basics. Because we have a split family (celiac and non-celiac) we have to divide a lot of things in our kitchen. We have a toaster for glutenous breads, and the toaster oven is for the gluten free variety. We have separate butter, peanut butter, and other spreadables for each, with the gluten-free varieties marked on the top with GF in magic marker. Any more, the only pastas we buy are gluten free, because they're getting cheaper, and the De Bole's rice and corn pastas are widely found in grocery stores, I buy mine at Walmart. Most spaghetti sauces that I find are actually okay, but I also have a good recipe for making your own sauce in the crockpot that's a favorite at our house, it just requires some planning. (I'll add this later)
It's also easy to get Tinkyada lasagna noodles and make your favorite old lasagna recipe. Most companies have a number on the jar of pasta sauce to call if you have any questions as to whether or not they're gluten free.

Two of our standard meals are naturally gluten free. First of all: John loves tacos. We had a standing joke in my family for the first few years of our marriage that if there was ever a special ocassion for John, I'd make tacos. In my family, food is the centerpiece for our celebrations. I remember asking John for our first Valentine's day what his favorite food was, so I could make a nice romantic dinner for us to have at home (as we were both graduate students and couldn't afford going out to a restaurant). He said tacos. I ended up making some kind of coconut kourma instead, because I wanted it to be nice. But John's just a basic kind of guy, and tacos work perfectly for him. We use corn tortillas, fried up, shredded cheese, ground beef with McCormick taco seasoning (this is gluten free, though others aren't), and lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and salsa. Most fresh salsas say right on the package if they're gluten free. Our favorite brand is the Garden Fresh Gourmet, which is gluten free. It's an easy, cheap meal, that tastes great.

Our second favorite meal, is also favorite because of its inexpensive nature, and ease of cooking. I love to roast a whole fryer chicken (usually under $1/lb at Walmart and other grocery stores) in the crockpot. It makes it so tender and juicy, and for about $4 I can use the meat for at least three meals for my family of 4. I love to do a lemon basil chicken. I take a handful of fresh basil, chop it up, and place a few tablespoons of it under the skin at the breast, then I put the rest in the cavity. I take a lemon, cut it in half, and pierce it through a few times, then add it to the cavity. I spray the bird with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put it in the crock on high for 3-5 hours. It tastes great! I also like to use Italian seasoning. It tastes really great to cut up a carrot, celery stick, and white onion, and add to the cavity with some fresh flat-leaf parsley if you have any. Then, I'll use a McCormick italian seasoning grinder and grind some seasoning all over the outside of the bird. This also tastes great.
The chicken can be served with potatoes or rice and steamed vegetables or a salad. It's easy and naturally gluten free. Watch out for various salad dressings. I am lucky enough to live by a Wegman's here in PA and so they mark each of their dressings as gluten free or not, so I really rely on that, but I've also been able to tell fairly easily with some Newman's Own dressings (our favorite is the Raspberry Vinaigrette). If you're making your own fresh vegetables, there's never any question as to what's in them. Generally stay away from frozen veggies in sauces, as they usually use wheat as a thickener, but some are okay. Check labels, and call companies.
Then, with the leftover chicken meat, we love to make soup. I don't like to make my own stock, I guess I'm just lazy, so I use Herbox boullion for the broth of my soup. They say right on the container that they're gluten free. I like to use some vegetable broth and some chicken broth, just because I like to mix things up. Then I add celery, carrots, onions and the chicken. We used to love to do chicken and rice soup, which does work very well, but lately we've been more into chicken noodle soup. You can use any type of gluten free pasta for this. I've recently come upon the Schar brand, which is a European brand that makes really great pasta, and I like the Fusilli for my soup, but we also just use De Bole's rice spaghetti.
I also love to use the chicken to make tacquitos. I learned the recipe from my friend two years ago, and she learned it from her Mexican mother-in-law. It's authentic, it's easy, and it tastes great. You just pull out your corn tortillas, heat some vegetable oil on medium heat, fry the tortialls slightly until they're pliable, put a bit of shredded chicken right down the center, roll them up, place them back in the frying pan seam-down, and fry up till browned. Then, serve with whatever garnish you like. We love to dip ours in a mixture of sourcream and fresh salsa.

We also love simple pot roasts, beef and pork. A lot of pot roast recipes might tell you to dredge the meat before browning, but this is unnecessary, and you don't need to use flour to make the gravy, just cornstarch. Also, be sure to use a gluten free boullion, but this can be very simple to just modify your own favorite recipes.

I have neglected to mention Asian cuisine. We love Chinese food, but you need to be careful of the soy sauce you use, since most brands are made with wheat. La Choy is gluten free, and so are a lot of store brands. We really like Tamari sauce, made by San J, but sometimes tamari's that are gluten free can be hard to find. I even have my own knock off version of PF Chang's (wonderful gluten free menu if you're not aware) lemon chicken. I'll have to post it later. And, usually cornstarch is used as a thickener. Serve over rice, and you're good to go.

We've also recently become big fans of Thai food. Thai Kitchen, and many other brands, mark clearly which products are gluten free. We love to make curries with Thai Kitchen curry pastes, just using the recipes on the sides, which are gluten free. If spicy foods scare you, don't worry, when you make your own, you can make it as spicy or as mild as you want.

We also have a couple favorite steak recipes. One of which is as simple as you get. Take the steak, cover it in rock salt, then let it sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes (no more), put it on the grill and cook to your desired doneness. This gives it a really great saltiness and really tenderizes your meat so it's totally tasty.

In terms of side dishes, there are a lot of ways to mix up the basic rice and potatoes to not feel like you're always eating the same things. At first, we got really into risottos, adding asparagus or mushrooms or peppers to make it taste different. We also started varying the type of rice used, we love jasmine and basmati rice, and like to throw brown rice in sometimes. You can also add juices, broths, cocount milk, salsas, etc to your rice to flavor it differently. John loves mashed potatoes, but we also really like to mash sweet potatoes with some brown sugar, butter and pumpkin pie spice. I love those new microwave steamer bags and will cut up red potatoes, and all kinds of vegetables for an easy meal. If you're feeling ambitious, polenta can be a very tasty side as well, it just takes the right seasoning and some time to make it really good.

I hope this is at all helpful, but wanted to at least include it here for those of you not sure how to start cooking after the initial diagnosis, or for friends of celiacs who want to cook them a dinner from time to time. Good luck!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

I was never a fan of pumpkin pie growing up. Our first Thanksgiving after John's diagnosis we made the grave mistake of going to a pot-luck dinner. The food was terrible, even everything laced with gluten. We had assumed it would be easier for John to eat than it actually was, and I remember John thinking he could just scoop the filling out of the pumpkin pie. We decided that there were just too many crumbs to risk it, and I had frankly thought that pumpkin pie filling without the crust sounded gross. Well, if this dessert is any indication, I was sorely mistaken. Just think of this as the pumpkin pie, with the whipped cream mixed right in, and instead of some boring pastry crust, a crust of sugar right on the top. It was a big hit among my family members. The recipe comes from Bon Apetit and has modifications based only on what I had on hand, and servings.

1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2-3 egg yolks (depending on the size of them, 3 medium, or 2 large or x-large)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 brown sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
raw brown sugar for sprinkling and burning on top

Turn on full tea kettle. Preheat oven to 325. Whip pumpkin and sugars in a medium mixing bowl. Add vanilla and egg yolks. When mixed thorougly, add spice and salt. Heat cream on medium heat until just before boiling. Add gradually, whisking into the pumpkin mixture. Pour into 4 ramekins placed in roasting pan. Put in the oven, and fill the roasting pan with boiling water, until it goes about half way up the ramekins. Cover them with tin foil, and bake for 50 minutes, or until set. Chill for a few hours. When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and immediately sprinkle with raw brown sugar. Using a culinary torch, burn the sugar. If you don't have your own torch (which I highly reccommend getting) then you can place them on a cooking sheet under the broiler of your oven, which will also burn the sugar for you.

This is very rich, and a half of one of these four servings will be enough to fill you, but it's good enough that you can still eat a whole one yourself.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

GF Pumpkin Waffles with Buttermilk Syrup

Again, from my sister's cookbook, I've modified an excellent recipe. We always love to have breakfast food, even for dinner, and I was intrigued by this recipe. I was a bit skeptical about the buttermilk syrup, especially while it was cooking and foaming over the stovetop, until I took a little piece of an already cooked waffle and dipped it in the syrup: it was so delicious! I really didn't have to modify much either. I added xanthan gum the first time I made the waffles, and the second time, I decided to try without. I'm trying to move away from including the gum in recipes that don't need it because (1) it's so expensive and (2) not all people can tolerate the gums. I was pleased that the waffles were fine without it. I also didn't have any more buttermilk on hand the second time I made these (I was using left-over syrup) and so I used the trick of 1Tbsp lemon juice in a cup measure, and adding milk until it was full, leaving it to sit on the counter for a few minutes. I really do reccommend using actual buttermilk, it really helps to "puff" the waffles and give them more substance, but they do still taste great with the substitution. And now, the recipe! (I will include the full recipe from the cookbook, although I'll let you know it makes a lot of waffles. I have a small, double waffle iron and from that it made about 20 square waffles. The second time I made it, I halved all the ingredients and made about 10. The waffles to store well and toast up great as leftovers if you want to make a large batch and have some on hand.)

1 1/2 cups Featherlight
1/4 tsp cloves
1 cup GF mix
4 eggs
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1Tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup melted butter or oil
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat waffle iron (I always spray mine with Pam a few times while cooking, the oil helps crisp the outside of the waffles). Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda salt and spices in a medium bowl, set aside. In a large bowl (I use the bowl of my stand mixer) beat eggs slightly, add in melted butter, brown sugar, pumpkin puree and vanilla. Alternately add in dry ingredients and buttermilk, just until blended, do not over-beat.

Buttermilk Syrup

1/2 cup butter
2 tsp white corn syrup
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla

Combine butter, sugar, buttermilk and corn syrup in large pan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Mixture will foam to twice its height. Stir and serve warm on pumpkin waffles. (I left it foamy the first time I ate them and it was still delicious, but my sister said she just kept stirring until the foam went down and it was a typical syrup, easy to pour on the waffles. Store leftover syrup in the refrigerator and reheat to serve.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Finally! Great Gluten Free Pancakes

So, I apologize now for the lack of picture, but these buttermilk pancakes were so good that they were gone before I could get a camera out. But I wanted to post the recipe anyway. I've never been a great pancake baker. I like pancakes, but they can be really finicky to make. I finally got a griddle with those little pancake forms to pour my wimpy GF pancake batter into, but with this recipe, I could actually pour my own. I've also had a lot of trouble with good pancakes falling flat on me, these held firm. My sister sent me a cookbook of recipes compiled by other members of her church, and it's been a great base for me to modify recipes. I just haven't been good at taking pictures, or sharing the recipes. So, here's my first.

These buttermilk pancakes made enough for my little family of four to be satisfied (8-10 pancakes).

1 cup GF mix
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 1/2 Tbsp oil
1 cup buttermilk

Mix the dry ingredients in a 1-quart bowl with a spout (I always use my Pyrex measuring bowl for such things, or my Pampered Chef batter bowl). Then, add the eggs, oil and buttermilk, mix with a fork until everything is incorporated. Pour on a griddle heated to medium. These are really excellent, I hope you enjoy them, too!