Monday, November 17, 2008

Delicious Fall Salads

When I was in high school I absolutely loved fall- new school supplies, High School Football games, changing leaves and crisp, cool weather. I grew up in St. Louis where by the end of August you are praying for any type of relief from the heat and humidity. Fall was always a welcome respite as we grabbed our pea coats and headed on out to Homecoming bonfires and parades.

With fall always came my mother’s delicious havarti, apple and walnut salad that we would eat alone or accompanying Thanksgiving dinner. The salad was perfect for fall in just about every way- the sweet crispness of the apples, tartness of the cranberries, sharp creaminess of the havarti and the crunchy woodiness of the walnuts. Flavors that mirrored what mother-nature was doing preparing for winter- crisp winds paired with strong sunshine that warms up your face.The salad was a mix and contradiction of flavors- just like the season.

Now that I am in Savannah, fall is just rolling in off the coast and we are having our first few crisp days as the leaves begin to change. I was beginning to crave my mother’s salad again and was inspired to create a new fall salad as well that takes advantage of the “harvest” vegetables and garnishes that are plentiful during the season- red potatoes, green beans, apples and nuts. My mother’s salad was even better than I remembered it with the oil- based poppyseed dressing dancing along my tongue.

In my new salad I was going for the same contrast in flavors that my mother achieved in her salad. I brought together red potatoes, tomatoes, green beans and goat cheese all dressed up with olive oil, seasonings and an simple red wine (gluten- free of course!) vinaigrette. I’m not a fish eater at all but fresh tuna would probably be divine with this harvest salad.

Gluten Free Maven’s Tip of the Day:
ALWAYS check that your dressing is gluten-free. Many times gluten is hidden in the ingredients and additives in salad dressings. Annie’s Naturals has a stellar selection of gluten-free dressings.

Havarti, Apple and Walnut Salad with Poppyseed Dressing
½ bag mixed greens (or fresh from farmers market )
1 Fugi Apple
Havarti Cheese
Chopped Walnuts
Dried Cranberries (optional)
Poppyseed Dressing (Maple Grove Farms of Vermont Fat Free Poppyseed Dressing is Gluten Free)
1) Dice Fugi apple and havarti cheese
2) In medium size bowl mix mixed greens, apple, cheese walnuts and cranberries with poppyseed dressing

Roasted Vegetable Salad
5-6 petite red potatoes
¼ lb fresh green beans
1 medium tomato
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Seasoning (Italian, Mrs. Dash- any gluten free seasoning)
Goat Cheese
½ bag mixed greens
Red Wine and Olive Oil Vinaigrette (Annie’s Naturals is Gluten Free)

1) Boil water for green beans
2) Turn oven on broil
3) Trim green beans, quarter potatoes and dice tomatoes
4) Throw green beans in water
5) In small bowl poor in a few “glugs” of olive oil and a couple of “shakes” of seasoning
6) Toss potatoes in olive oil mixture
7) Throw potatoes in broiling pan and place in oven for five minutes
8) Toss green beans and tomato in olive oil mixture
9) After 5 minutes add beans and tomato to broiling pan for approx. 4 min
10) In medium size bowl mix mixed greens and goat cheese
11) Remove vegetables from oven and mix in with greens and cheese. Add Red Wine and Olive oil vinaigrette and serve

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Giving Black Beans and Rice another chance

Almost two years ago two great friends of mine from college, Dana and Josiah, got married in Dana’s hometown of New Orleans. I had never visited “The Big Easy” and was intrigued and interested in experiencing Bourbon Street, eating Creole food and drinking at any time of the day. This was before I had figured out why I was constantly sick, suffering from migraines, gaining weight seemingly overnight and still craving wheat at every turn.

To say the least, I enjoyed New Orleans immensely and took advantage of the fabulous food and drink constantly available including pasta, cornbread, wedding cake, beer and daiquiris- yes I think every morsel I put in my mouth was completely gluten-fied. I arrived on Thursday and by Sunday, when I was at Dana’s parents house enjoying the post- wedding lazy day dinner, I was sicker than a dog. I just chalked it up to not having the same liver I did in college and partook in an amazing dinner of rice and beans. Everybody at the dinner knew it was my first time in New Orleans and had a fun time ribbing me on finally eating the “real thing” and when I spent a noticeably long time in the bathroom, giving me a hard time for not being able to digest the “real thing”. I was mortified- I had failed my New Orleans initiation- I couldn’t even hold on rice and beans- major bummer. I swore off rice and beans- we were over after they embarrassed me so.

That was in November, a few months later was when I found out gluten was the culprit of my sickness, migraines and weight gain and finally pieced together “AH! That’s why I was so sick- it wasn’t the spices in the Creole food but the gluten in the food that made me so painfully ill!”But I still hadn’t forgiven rice and beans. That took a bit longer.

My mother is a do- gooder, tree hugging suburban hippie. Being cut of that “cloth” she and her friends have gone on many service trips around the world including Central and South America. While building housing, providing medical care and teaching basic home skills my mother and her friends ate a lot of rice and beans. When I say a lot I mean a lot- beans and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you so much as say “rice and beans” to one of her friends she does a small dry heave and leaves the room. To say rice and beans are a staple in that part of the world is a bit of an understatement. Due to the abundance in crops of beans and the relative affordability of the dish rice and beans can be found in Cuba, Brazil, Nicaragua and everywhere in between. With my mothers experience in Central and Southern America and her flirtations with vegetarianism over the years she has been a big proponent of me adding beans and rice to my diet and constantly touts their nutritional value, especially since I have been following a gluten free diet.

Recently, after reading Jeremy Jackson’s essay “Beans and Me” in “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone” edited by Jenni Ferrari- Adler, I had an uncontrollable urge to following my mother’s guidance. Jackson writes about his decade long “friendship” with black beans throughout college, grad school and while teaching at his alma mater. He speaks lovingly of the sister dish of the dish I swore off of after my uncomfortable New Orleans rendezvous - despite my mother’s urgings. Jackson writes, “Of all the beans I have loved in my lifetime- and there have been many- no bean stands above the black bean. The black bean reigns supreme. The black bean has the key to my heart. The black bean and me go way back.” His relationship with black beans seemed a lot healthier than mine. I decided that every dish deserves a second chance and that I would follow my mothers advice and try out black beans and rice again . They may not have been the real “New Orleans thing” but they were darn good. Even if you aren’t gluten- free this is a fabulous flavorful, filling and easy dish to make in the fall.

Black Beans and Rice for the Solitary Celiac (and leftovers)
2 cups water
1 cup white rice
Swirl of Olive Oil
About 1 tbl spoon Garlic ( I always have a jar of chopped garlic onhand to quickly add to recipes or use 2 small cloves fresh garlic)
½ small white onion, diced
¼ red pepper, diced
1 can Goya Black Beans undrained and ¼ can of water (canned is fastest but you can use dry and soak overnight at well)
A few shakes of the following to taste:
Chili powder or similar seasoning (which has cayenne an oregano but I like adding more of those two)
1. Boil water for rice. When water comes to a rumbling boil add rice and turn down to medium heat
2. While rice is cooking, swirl olive oil around pan and cover bottom of pan with olive oil. Add diced garlic, onion and red pepper and sauté until onion is translucent
3. Add can of black beans with juice and ¼ can of water. Saute on medium heat
4. While beans are sautéing and add spices to taste
5. Enjoy aromas
6. Simmer beans for about 20 minutes or until there is substantial bean “gravy”
7. Serve piping hot beans over rice
You can visibly see the heat rising from the plate as the bean gravy dirties the white rice. Black beans and rice is the perfect example of contradictions or opposites working together: black and white, spicy and bland. It is like the culinary version of Will Smith’s song Miami “black, white, Cuban and asian”- all flavors and colors mixing together for an aromatic, filling, affordable and easy dish for all to enjoy- gluten free or gluten lover.

Gluten Free Maven's Product Tip of the Day:
Check out Goya's Nutrition Page for all of the Gluten-Free products! A fabulous tip for the gluten- free cook!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese delights

I was not the most original kid in the world when it came to my culinary tastes. I liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (no crust please), plain cheese pizza and good ol' Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I don't know if I ever knew that macaroni and cheese could come out of anything but a blue box. When Kraft started expanding their line-up of mac and cheese offerings from the regular macaroni half- circle pasta to twists, shapes and shells with creamy, gooey Velveeta cheese smeared over them- WOAH! I thought I had hit the big time in expanding my culinary repertoire. Then again I was only 10 and it was the early 90's so you can't fault me too much.

As with all things- I changed and so did the landscape of macaroni and cheese in America. I'm not sure my sister, who are a generation younger than I, have ever seen macaroni and cheese out of a blue box. Food tastes in America have changed drastically over the past 20 years as we have become more socially, organically and economically aware. My sisters now crave Annie's mac and cheese in fun Arthur the Aardvark shapes. I, on the other hand, have come to find out that macaroni and cheese comes in all shapes and sizes and, with the discovery of my gluten allergy, in pasta not made with wheat flour but rather rice, quinoa and other exotic grain flours.

When I first found out I couldn't eat pasta I had a bit of a breakdown- my diet was mostly pasta based. So instead of trying to find alternative ways to cook I looked to directly substitute what I had already been eating- sometimes with great success and other times with some difficulty. Luckily for me there are many gluten free alternatives to the “American classic” of macaroni and cheese. In the two years since I discovered wheat was a memory of the past I have expanding my cooking talents and culinary tastes, but there are days when I still just want to whip up a quick box of mac and cheese! Where did this nationwide obsession with mac and cheese that I inherited come from and why was it so important that I replace it in my new gluten free diet?

Many food historians credit Mary Randolph, Thomas Jefferson's daughter, with inventing a macaroni and parmesan dish that serves as a forefather to our current pasta and cheddar dish. More than likely Jefferson himself brought the dish back after his travels in Italy. Then, in 1937 amid economic troubles and war, Kraft macaroni and cheese sold a record 8 million boxed dinners. During World War Two the popularity of Kraft macaroni soared tenfold and proved to be a filling meat substitute that was also affordable- costing families only one ration coupon per box. Now Kraft dominates the macaroni and cheese aisle with dozens of different types of products including Macaroni and Cheese Deluxe, Back to Nature Macaroni and Cheese, Bistro Deluxe Creamy Portabello Mushroom, Easy Mac (a college freshman staple) and Original Macaroni and Cheese available in various shapes including Spider Man, Scooby Doo and Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Macaroni and Cheese has also played a big role in African- American kitchens throughout American culinary history. Joseph C Phillips, an actor based in Los Angeles, commented on the importance of macaroni and cheese in his life on the NPR show “News and Notes”. He describes becoming enraged when he saw his children were eating “powdered orange gook” (the same gook I loved as a suburban child in the 80s and 90s). He describes good macaroni and cheese dishes as “elbow macaroni with creamy custard like cheddar cheese sauce covered with a crusty layer of cheese and butter and breadcrumbs”. That sounds a heck of a lot better than the “powdered orange gook” of my childhood. Mom- what were you doing to me? Didn't you love me? Or did you love my low cholesterol more?

As I ventured out to find quality gluten-free macaroni and cheese I tried many varieties- powdered and boxed, frozen and creamed and homemade. Many of the products I tried out are readily available in most nationwide grocery stores in the “organic” food section or at your local natural food store. Macaroni and cheese has come a long way since the Jefferson family was making it with Parmesan cheese but I think they would get a kick out of the dish becoming an American classic- even for the Gluten intolerant.

Annies Rice Macaroni and Cheese (Boxed)

Annie's Rice Macaroni and Cheese is most like the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese products of my childhood. And although some may call it “powdered orange gook” there are days I just want that “powdered orange gook” darn it! I had a lot of good memories with that kind of macaroni and cheese and although my tastes have expanded there are times I like to have a walk down memory lane with boxed macaroni and cheese- powdered cheese and all!

I was thrilled when I first found that Annie's made a rice version of their very popular boxed macaroni and cheese. I was so thrilled that I failed to read the directions- after all I had been making macaroni and cheese for almost 25 years when I was diagnosed- I don't need to read directions anymore. As most recently diagnosed celiacs will tell you rice pasta cooks a bit differently than wheat pasta. Also, Annies has you make the cheese sauce in a measuring cup with the milk before pouring it over the hot, drained macaroni. Good call Annie- this prevents the lumping of powdered product all over your pasta. It helps to read the directions and I suggest you do so if you are new to gluten free cooking.

After I nailed down how to cook the box the way Annie intended- I was satisfied. The pasta cooks up al dente and the cheese mixture is able to spread over the pasta without clumping up. I am a cheese lover though so I wish that Annie's provided more cheese for the sauce especially because not all of the sauce gets on the macaroni pasta from the measuring cup. The cheese sauce lacks a lot of favor but, I truly don't remember much “BAM” flavor in my childhood macaroni so I don't fault Annie's too much for their lack of taste. It would be fun if Annie made some of her kid friendly versions- with shapes of Arthur and friends- gluten-free as well for children who avoid gluten. Overall, I think Annie's is a nice stand-by for a quick lunch or light dinner with a salad or sandwich. I almost always have a box or two in my pantry.

Amy's Rice Macaroni and Cheese (Frozen Meal)

Amy's has been offering a rather extensive collection of vegetarian frozen meals and more to Americans since 1987. Amy's has started expanding their repertoire within the past few years to include gluten-free, lactose- free and many other special diet products. Amy's Rice Macaroni and Cheese was one of the first gluten-free alternatives I turned to when I was diagnosed. It's quick and easy- a college celiac's alternative to Easy Mac (though more expensive). After 4 minutes in the microwave you have an al dente macaroni and cheese treat! The pasta is reminiscent of wheat flour pasta and does not have the grainy texture that some gluten-free pastas have. The creamy cheese has a surprising nutty taste that leaves you wanting more- and Amy anticipated this by not skimping on the cheese at all. Usually after I have had one of my Amy's meals I have cheese left over in my paper microwave container. There is only a slight powder after taste to the cheese but it is barely noticeable. Amy's has done a great job at developing a tasty macaroni and cheese dish for those of us who are unable to eat gluten and wheat.

Glutino Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese 3-Cheese Blend (Frozen Meal)

Both Annie's and Amy's are food producers who do not specialize in food for people with allergies, but, Glutino, as the name suggests, specializes in food specifically for those who can not eat gluten. Glutino is a company based in Quebec whose product can be found in grocery and health food stores as well as directly through Glutino's website.

Most Glutino products knock my socks off but my socks stayed firmly on after making their 3-cheese macaroni and cheese. I cooked per the package directions but when I first took the box out of the microwave I found that I had macaroni and cheese soup. I microwaved it a bit longer and while I still had some “soup” it was better. Additionally, the noodles were not cooked evenly some being too hard and others too soft, the cheese was visibly oily and for a frozen meal the cheese was too powdery for my liking. Not my favorite of all of the macaroni and cheese's that I have sampled but I don't count Glutino out either- I am typically pleased with their products so after some time passes I may give their macaroni and cheese another shot hoping that it has gone through some serious product development.

Carol Fenster's Macaroni and Cheese (Homemade)

My mother sent me Carol Fenster's “Gluten Free Quick and Easy” cookbook while I was living in New York and I started using her recipes almost immediately. I typically use cookbook recipes as a jumping off point to learn how to make things that I don't normally make- like béchamel sauce. I have made this recipe a couple of times and have always made a few substitutions. Below is her recipe with my changes.

1 bag gluten free macaroni (I used Tinkayada)
3 cups skim milk
¼ cup rice flour (Uncle Bobs) and then as needed to thicken
2 table spoons unsalted butter
1 ½ cup smoked Gouda
1 ½ cup yellow sharp cheddar
a few squirts of dijon mustard
a few shakes of salt
a few shakes of paprika
1. Prepare pasta
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease an over proof 2- quart dish
3. Place all except ¼ cup of milk into heavy pan over medium heat. Stir the rice flour into the remaining milk until smooth and mix into pan. Add butter and mix continuously. Continue whisking and adding rice flour as needed to thicken.
Note: Add rice flour 1/8 or ¼ cup at a time. Milk mixture will be half as thick as regular milk. You should still be able to whisk through the mixture easily.
4. Remove pan from heat and whisk in mustard, cheeses and salt until cheese is melted. Then pour over drained pasta in pot and transfer to baking dish
5. Bake 25-30 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.

You can really use any kind of cheese. I just happen to be a huge smoked Gouda fan so I mixed the smoked Gouda and sharp cheddar. The smokiness of the Gouda is just enough to make you happy to be alive. Homemade mac and cheese is great because you get the crusty cheese top and creamy underneath that warms you from the inside. This dish is great alone or paired with gluten free fried chicken or a tomato and greens salad. I think if Joseph C. Phillips had to eat gluten- free he would be most pleased with this dish- its delish! This dish is great alone or paired with gluten free fried chicken or a tomato and greens salad.