Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gluten-Free Holiday Treat Recipes!

OK, I don't have pictures for you yet, but I wanted to point you in the direction of some great holiday recipes I'm pulling out this year --some of these are tried and true and some are new ventures, so I hope you enjoy!

Peppermint Meringues: This recipe from Bon Apetit was forwarded to me by my mom and I'm going to be whipping them together this afternoon. The recipe is fairly straightforward and it makes a large quantity (approx. 60 per recipe).

Stained Glass Windows: This was a childhood staple for me during the holidays --for gluten-free and gluten-eating alike. I'm a sucker for the chocolate combo, so these are always good in my book. And with just five ingredients (I usually leave out the nuts), they're ridiculously easy to make!

Crisp Coconut Chocolate Pie: I made this first for Thanksgiving last month. It worked so well and was so delicious (and a little bit rich) that I just have to make it again for Christmas. Again with the chocolate-coconut combo. This time I am trying it with coconut milk instead of heavy cream - fingers crossed that it actually works!

Poached Apples: I fell in love with poached pears earlier this year. (Seriously, if you're in the Cleveland area and haven't tried the poached pear with creme anglaise at Sasa Matsu, you need to go!). When I got three (ginormous!) delicious Jonagold apples with my CSA order this week (OK, there were actually four, but with peanut butter in the house the fourth one did not last long...), I wasn't sure what I would do with them, especially with no gluten-free flour, oats, or pie crusts... And then it struck me: poached apples. Poached. Apples. Yes, yes, and yes.

For more gluten-free recipes and ideas, follow my gluten-free board on Pinterest!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Recipe Conversion - Egg Casserole

Growing up, egg casserole was a holiday tradition in my house. We'd all wake up on Christmas morning, open presents and then sit down to breakfast of cinnamon rolls (yeah, still haven't figured out gluten-free for that...) and egg casserole. Fluffy, cheesy, savory, egg casserole was always amazing.

When I went gluten-free I didn't even really think about how much I'd miss this until the holidays hit and then I remembered. Egg casserole is essentially a savory bread pudding. Yeah, there's that word: BREAD.  In the ten years since I first went gluten-free, the market has exploded with some great options for us GFree eaters and that includes bread, so after a long sabbatical, I decided to try to recreate my mother's egg casserole. This recipe below (which I pretty much eye-balled) filled an oval pan about 8x12".

6 Slices of Gluten-Free Bread (I used Whole Foods' Sandwich Bread), cubed
6 eggs
2/3 cup of milk
1 pound of gluten-free sausage (I used Bob Evans' original)
2 Tablespoons of yellow mustard
4-8 oz. of cheddar cheese (depending on how much you want)
Some nutmeg (not a huge amount, just enough to add some zip)

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Alrighty, so first things first: Brown the sausage and break it up into smaller bits (about bite-sized), next toss your bread cubes into the pan. I like to toss them with the sausage for flavor.  Layer the sausage/bread mixture in the pan with cheese throughout.

Beat your eggs and add the milk and mustard to them, mixing well. If you want to use Nutmeg you can also add it at this point.  (If you are making this ahead of time, i.e., overnight, you may want to add an extra cup or so of milk). Pour the egg mixture over the bread and press the bread down with a fork so it's all coated. It's totally alright if some edges stick up though because this will be crisp deliciousness later. Spread the remaining cheese on top and pop in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes until brown on top and the middle is set. Mine took about 45 minutes and it came out wonderfully.

Serve hot! Or, do what I did and divide portions up into individual servings for packed breakfasts. Going to try to freeze it and see if it will be okay, but that remains to be seen so far.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy. I know I did! For a (not-very-good-quality-cell-phone-)picture, see my tweet from last night. I will be posting the photos here eventually, but it won't be immeediately.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Baking

Thanks to the holidays, I have been baking a lot more than I usually do (which is pretty much not-at-all). My experiences with gluten-free baking in the past have not been all that great. To be honest, there's a bit of a love-hate relationship between me and gluten-free baked goods. "Love" when someone else makes it and "hate" when I do. Also,  I have to contend with not only being gluten-free, but also being yeast-free as well --double whammy!

Anyway, this holiday season, I decided I would plan ahead and make my own gluten-free treats to take to holiday parties so that I wouldn't just go and have to watch everyone eat all the delicious food. I'll be trying to post more recipes as I go, but here's a synopsis of my current holiday favorites (which actually isn't all baking, but oh well!):

1) Chocolate Coconut Pie - Found this recipe on Pinterest and was surprised to see that it was a) relatively easy and b) completely gluten-free without any modifications whatsoever. I made two of these for Thanksgiving and I was pretty happy with the results. I will say that I'd like to try my hand at making this recipe a little lighter since it was so incredibly rich. Also, the crust was a little difficult to cut if you weren't careful.

2) Bob's Red Mill Shortbread Cookie Mix - I actually tossed these together last night after I got home from work. They were really quite simple and delicious, but (as with most gluten-free items) a bit on the dry and crumbly side. It may be heresy to do this to shortbread, but I'm thinking about adding a thin frosting (maybe a lemon glaze?) on top to add a little zing. Also, I found out last night that I don't own a rolling pin. I might need to remedy that. Last night I was rolling out cookies with the salt container...

3) Lastly, pumpkin pancakes! Yes, I know. It's not baking. BUT it was a fantastic holiday morning treat (especially after completing my first ever Turkey Trot). I modified Katie's recipe to toss out some delicious pumpkin pancakes that were just about perfect. They were a little too cakey for my taste, but future modifications can remedy that.

Happy Holiday and good luck on your gluten-free holiday baking adventures!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy (Belated!) Gluten-Free Thanksgiving!

Just writing a quick note to say Happy Thanksgiving.

My holiday was deliciously gluten-free despite being at a family party where I'm the only one who has those specific dietary needs. It helps that I brought my own pie, snacks, and made part of the meal.

Two best things about yesterday? My mom was in town and she made gluten-free gravy (I know, I know, it's not that hard! But I just can't seem to get it right...) and gluten-free cookies that actually tasted good!

I made this pie. It was good, but oh-so-sweet. And it's ridiculously easy to make. Mine did not look as good as Martha's, though.

We also had three turkeys (yes, my family with just 18 people for Thanksgiving, roasted three turkeys), homemade cranberry sauce, cornbread, baked yams, mashed potatoes, the aforementioned gluten-free gravy, and tapioca jello. It was like all the nostalgia of childhood wrapped up on a plate.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I'm still here!

I kind of disappeared there for a while. So sorry. Between moving, new job, no wifi, and phone problems, it has really cut down both on the blog and on the Twitter account.  Once I get my wifi set-up and my phone problems straightened out (using Twitter for almost all of the communications for this project and then having it flip out has not helped), I will be back and on top of things again, but for now...

I'm still here, still eating gluten-free and definitely dreading the upcoming holiday season. I think I'm just going to need to have a weekend of holiday baking so that I have something to take with me to the office, family parties, friends' parties, other miscellaneous holiday events.  

A few weeks ago, I ran across this amazing Tumblr called wheniwentglutenfree. Yeah, it's all sorts of awesome. The .gif below (found via that lovely site) pretty much describes how I feel about the holidays.


(Source: whatshouldwecallme)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Squash Curry Soup

Yesterday was my down day after an amazing event on Saturday (Seriously, getting to give the Cleveland Foodbank the money to help serve 200,000 meals? Pretty incredible!). But as with most Sundays, I have to start thinking about what the week will hold for gluten-free lunches.   Fortunately for me, I have this tendency to pick up ridiculous amounts of winter squash when autumn comes around, so there was no doubt in my mind what I was going to be working with.

Three butternut and one acorn squash were halved, cleaned out, and popped in the oven for baking.  While that was working away, I started scavenging through my cupboards to see what I could find. The results? A can of coconut milk, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, cayenne, and black pepper.  That certainly sounded like a great addition and I decided to try my hand at a squash curry soup.

In a large soup pot, I combined the spices with some butter and then added the coconut milk and squash (I used one butternut and one acorn for this recipe). After adding some sage, and a half a round of chevre (I can't resist the call of cheese, I can't!), I put my immersion blender to use and it turned the combination into a creamy, rich golden soup. Upon final tasting I added some yellow mustard to try and cut through the richness.

All-in-all this turned out to be a pretty amazing soup. Hearty, flavorful, and full of fall flavor. Definitely looking forward to having this throughout the week!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Alternative Flours and Mixes Angst

One perk for me going gluten-free is that, because of relatively limited finances, I don’t have the option to buy those expensive flours, flour blends, and mixes. Oh right. That’s not a “perk” per se, but the eating healthier because of it definitely is! I’m forced now to eat a lot more in the way of whole foods than I ever had before.

But every now and then I just get this craving for a brownie. I REALLY miss brownies.  I made these and they’re delicious, but they just aren’t the same (and almond flour or meal costs an arm and a leg).  This has resulted in me not eating brownies (my favorite food group --and yes, they qualify as a food group all on their own) for several months.

I reached my breaking point yesterday and decided to buy a gluten-free brownie mix when I was out grocery-shopping. Can I just say this: “WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH THE PRICES?” OK. Maybe a little bit of an over-reaction. I know that gluten-free alternatives are expensive. But really. Nine dollars for a cake or brownie mix? OK, so your flour mix works miracles, but if I can’t afford to buy it, let alone use it on a regular basis, it is useless to me.

In a haze of chocolate desperation, I broke down and dished out the $5 for the cheapest gluten-free brownie mix available and I tried it last night. But I’m not happy. I know that there are a lot of reasons that these items are so costly. Phrases like niche market, supply and demand, come to mind. I can afford to buy a couple extra cans of chickpeas. I cannot afford to buy Better Batter flour mixes. OK. I said it. I was really upset over the cost of Better Batter flour blend. Especially after hearing so much amazing stuff about it.

My go-to for treats is actually usually a Pinterest search for “paleo desserts”. I know the paleo diet gets a lot of flack, but they are definitely some of the best (and generally most affordable) recipes I’ve found out there for gluten-free desserts and treats. Especially when compared to the flour alternatives we’re working with now. If you follow my gluten-free board on Pinterest, you will see “paleo” recipes pop up on a regular basis. I’ve found several cookie and cake recipes that work really well by searching for paleo options. And I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get the ingredients either.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Yes, they're gluten-free and, yes, they taste great!!

I based my recipe off of this fantastic recipe here, but I didn't have any regular gluten-free flour mix, so I decide to be inventive.

Preheat your oven at 450F.

I took four frozen chicken breasts and partially thawed them (I find still-slightly-frozen-chicken easier to chop up). After that, I cut them into just slightly-smaller-than-normal sizes for nuggets (think Chick-Fil-A sized nuggets).

In a large, Ziploc plastic bag, I combined equal parts chickpea flour and Parmesan cheese along with a combination of paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. In all honesty, I added a little too much cayenne, but they're delicious. If you're not good with spicy, dial down or eliminate the cayenne all together.

Put the chicken in the plastic bag (if you're doing a lot like I was, this will have to be done in batches), seal the bag, and shake, coating all the pieces with the cheesy goodness.  After that, I spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and baked them for 15 minutes, flipped them and then backed for another seven.

The results? Spicy, super-moist, and really easy homemade chicken nuggets! This made enough for several meals and so far it looks like it reheats really well.

In hindsight: I had run out of parchment paper and foil, and that would've saved me a lot of trouble with the clean-up afterward.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pinterest Gave Me Hope

OK, as cheesy as it sounds, it's true. I'd been neglecting myself by not following a strict gluten-free regimen --and it was definitely showing, if we're to judge by the bouts of illness and exhaustion. So, when I started to seriously pursue a gluten-free lifestyle earlier this year, I turned to Pinterest.

I'd already been using Pinterest to track some of my favorite things: DIY ideas, my favorite color, favorite quotes, etc., so why not gluten-free recipes and ideas? Sure enough, this works! I now use Pinterest on an almost-daily basis to search for and track gluten-free recipes. 

My gluten-free board is a daily inspiration to me that gluten-free food does not have to be tasteless, crumbly, and depressing --in fact, quite the opposite!  I am a very visual person, so seeing amazing pictures of gluten-free food is a huge motivation for me to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.  Pinterest has given me: gluten-free crepes, cookies, entrees, desserts, and more.  Cheesy, but true!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sergio's Sarava - Shaker Square #CLE

How is it possible that I've lived in the Shaker Square area for over a year and never ventured into Sergio's Sarava? Oh. my. gosh. My mistake. BIG mistake.

Looking for a fun, but quick and simple happy hour, to celebrate some good news, a friend and I headed out to Shaker Square directly after work. There was some debate, but in the end Sarava won out and I'm so glad it did. Gluten-free, delicious, and did I mention gluten-free?

First off, the pao de queijo is amazing. According to the server, they make it with rice flour. I've made it with tapioca starch before, but I'm really liking the rice flour. If you've recently gone gluten-free and you're missing that lovely, elastic yeastiness, these would be a delicious gateway into other gluten-free options. My friend swore that she would never have been able to tell they were gluten-free if I hadn't asked.

Caiparinha and sangria in hand, we also tried out the beef churasco, empadas (her, not me), and the Prince Edward Island Mussels. All clean, uncluttered, and delicious dishes.

See below for a video on how to make pao de queijo.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Traveling Trials

This past weekend, I headed out on to the open road.  Friday afternoon found me situated in my black tin can of a car, hurtling down the turnpike toward a family reunion.

I love traveling. I really do. I also really like traveling alone, so this solitary trip was right up my alley. Until I realized that I hadn't thought ahead about gluten-free options for food while driving. And let me tell you, the Ohio Turnpike is not a gluten-free-friendly place. I suppose if you want to stand and read labels for ages and only eat trail mix, it would be relatively simple. However, if you're leaving straight from work and looking for something to hold you over for the next four hours, you had better pack everything for yourself.

Einstein Brothers, Panera, Carvel/Cinnabon (combination), Burger King, Popeye's. The list goes on and on. The closest thing to gluten-free I managed to get was a drink from Starbucks which, as you may know, can be disastrous if a) you don't know what to order or b) you are one of those unfortunate people with an extreme insensitivity to gluten.

My two days on the Turnpike were made more difficult by the lack of options, but it made me wonder when or if things will ever change.  Some doctors speculate that as many as 1 in 3 people in the world have a gluten sensitivity. What would it take for us to make changes in our fast food marketplaces?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Family Dinner

I come from a big Italian family. And when I say Italian, I mean Italian. The two most important things in this world for this family seem to be family and food (no big argument there from me).  As such, family dinners every Sunday are a big deal. A really big deal.

They're also a really big gluten-fest filled with booby traps and delicious, but deadly pitfalls. I usually end up making something for my self on the side and just having to look longingly at the pasta, meatballs, and Nonna's amazing homemade sauce. And then I got a big surprise this morning. Grandma (Nonna) informed that not only had she picked up gluten-free penne rigata (by Pasta Si) and even made sure that she had a gluten-free sauce on hand (Lidia's Marinara). While it still isn't Nonna's homemade sauce and meatballs, it means the world that she would think of me and go out of her way to make sure I felt included --and of, course, well-fed because that is the main love language of Italian grandmas everyone.

Along with this, I've thrown together a roast chicken piccata based on this recipe. It's in the oven now and it smells delicious!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Race to a Million #5K

So, I have a cause that hits close to home for me. I love the Cleveland Foodbank and what they do for our community. In this day and age and with this economy, all of us are a lot closer to hunger than we realize.

This year, I get the awesome opportunity to do a 5K and raise funds for the Cleveland Foodbank though the Race to a Million. I did put my fundraising widget up there (you can see it just to the right), so if you feel led to donate, I know that the Cleveland Foodbank would really appreciate. Just $10 can feed 40 in need. The money donated through the widget goes straight to the Cleveland Foodbank through Crowdrise and you can even get a receipt of your donation for tax purposes.

On a side/gluten-free note: I got to volunteer at the Cleveland Foodbank a couple months ago and I was really excited to see how many gluten-free products that were available in the shipment we were sorting.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Hipp

My cousin was in town a few weeks ago and because of this, we spent a good amount of time eating out and exploring the city. Eating out is always a bit of a trap for the gluten-free, but I have it a little easier than most as mine is a "simple" allergy and not Celiac.  But it is still hard. So hard.

One of my favorite new restaurants is The Hipp. They're pretty awesome. Besides having fantastic, fresh food, they are pretty gluten-free friendly in my experience. They also have an awesome food truck, but mostly I'm here to brag about The Hipp itself.  Their food is good. Really. It's fresh and it's fast. It is one of the few places where I can walk in with only an hour lunch to spare and get a real meal and back to the office in no time flat.   When I first started going to The Hipp, I'd simply order a sandwich or an entree sans gluten (i.e., one of the great hamburgers without the bun). Then I heard word of a gluten-free bun. Yes, folks, a gluten-free bun. And I tried it and it was amazing. It's what I like to call a "I-can't-believe-it's-not-gluten" moment. It really is the best gluten-free bun so far.

Also, I have to speak very highly of the staff as well. Very gluten-free friendly. I've called, emailed, and even just walked in off the street with gluten-related questions and they've been super helpful and well-informed about which of their items have gluten and which can be customized to be gluten-free.

If you're in the Midtown area, give them a try. I hope you'll like them as much as I do!

Burger with gluten-free bun

Fatty BBQ Sammie, sans bun and with brussell sprouts

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi

Oy vey. When I first made gluten-free gnocchi a few years ago, it seemed like such a breeze. This time, I was apparently a little too ambitious (but keep reading because it actually turned out alright!). I decided to try a new twist for a family dinner tomorrow (err, today. This is the problem with writing posts around midnight).

My original gnocchi recipe that I've used with success is equal parts rice flour and mashed potatoes, plus an egg or two. Sorry for the vague/non-existent measurements. I am notoriously bad at keeping track of actual measurements and usual prefer to do things by touch/texture.

For the new recipe, I started with this recipe as a basis.  Below is listed the ingredient list that I started with (please note: "started with").

3 smallish sweet potatoes (in the middle of the recipe, it says that you need three cups)
1 12-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 1/2 c. rice flour
1 1/4 c. tapioca flour

So, first I cut the sweet potatoes in half and boiled them for about 50 minutes. Then, I went through the really annoying process of ricing the sweet potatoes without a ricer. I used a strainer instead and it really reinforced the self-impression that I am lazy. OK, so sweet potatoes are riced and I've got my three cups.

{I think this is where I started to go wrong (or maybe not wrong, but took a detour). Because I started this a bit too late in the evening, I was impatient and didn't let the ricotta drain as long as I should've. If I'd been thinking, I probably would've started the ricotta a lot earlier in the day.}

I combined the sweet potato, ricotta, nutmeg, and Parmesan in a large bowl, then added the flour mixture little by little. This is where I really started to see a problem because the dough really wasn't coming together like I wanted.  So, I added a 1/2 cup more of each flour. And then again. And again. All in all, I estimate that I used about three cups of rice flour and two cups of tapioca flour. I ended up putting in more rice than tapioca flour just because I'm more familiar with the texture.

In the end, I just kept adding and adding until I got to the texture I needed and then divided it, rolled it out, and then started cutting the individual gnocchi. I didn't end up adding the ridges because a) I'm tired, and b) I'm really tired. (Hey, honesty is the best policy, right?).

Pillows of (hopefully) sweet potato goodness
My preferred method of cooking the gnocchi is to add into a pot of salted water at a boil, wait for them to rise and then pull them out and add to sauce. I've also had reasonable success with freezing them and keeping them for a couple months that way.

Two and a half pans of gnocchi in the freezer waiting for bagging
The actual dish will be finished in the morning and I'll try to grab a 'final' picture after I get some sleep.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

More Gluten-Free Experimentation

I’m back to the chickpea flour. I haven’t tried baking anything with it yet and probably won’t be attempting a gravy any time soon, but what I’ve done so far I have loved. Last night was a flounder filet, dredged in a mixture of Parmesan and chickpea flour (very similar to this chicken) that I then

Lovely flounder with veggies

Dessert? Gluten-free cookies (the ones from this post) warmed in the micro and topped with fat free vanilla frozen yogurt. Pretty tasty and, more or less, guilt free.

Gluten-free cookies and yogurt

I'm Not a Fauxtog. Or a Photog.

I make no bones about the fact that I’m not a professional. Most of the time I take the pictures I post on here with my cellphone. Other pictures are taken on my eight year old point-and-click camera. Some days I do wish that my pictures were clearer, prettier, mouth-wateringly delicious looking, or even artfully arranged.

Then again, it really kind of typifies who I am. I’m not classically trained (or anything trained, for that matter) in cuisine or photography.  I hope that is more of a draw than a hindrance though. My thinking is that if I can do this, anyone can.

So bear with me on my rudimentary photography and my kitchen flops. I’m learning, too!

Case in point: My favorite mug with vanilla gelato and a homemade blueberry sauce. Picture's not great. Actually, it's pretty horrendous. But you get the idea.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mini Dinner Party

While I am usually always up for cooking for a large group, the idea of hosting more than a couple people, especially in my little mousehole-sized apartment, is daunting. So, I throw Mini Dinner Parties. One or two people invited over for good food, good conversation, and some time to just sit and breathe.

Last night (today, as I’m typing this!) was an impromptu dinner party. Stress, combined with some tough decisions for a friend made this the perfect night to sit down and enjoy a meal together. They got to sit back and unwind, and I got to de-stress in my own way by cooking.

I already had some chicken on hand, so that decided the protein. With no real idea of what I was actually going to do with said chicken, I wandered into Whole Foods to see what I could fine. About twenty minutes later, I was armed with tomatoes, mushrooms, an onion, a good-sized hunk of provolone cheese, and a pint of vanilla gelato. I had decided that I was going to make what I was loosely (very loosely!) calling Provolone-Smothered Chicken with a Tomato-Mushroom Caponta. (FYI, if you are dairy-free, this was still quite delicious before the addition of cheese)

Into a saucepan, a little oil with half a diced onion. After that sauteed for a while, I added  chopped tomatoes (seeds and all) and mushrooms, as well as a little balsamic, basil, and a bit of oregano. I cooked this all done and then added it to a baking dish, along with the chicken breasts. The other half of the onion was sliced and laid across the chicken.

Popped it into the over at 375F for 30 minutes. After that, added thick slices of provolone to each piece of chicken and put it back in the over for 10 minutes. This may have been just on this side of too long in the oven, but fortunately my “caponata” seemed to keep the moisture in pretty well.

Served with steamed veggies (cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, summer squash) and a glass of white wine.

Dessert, was supposed to be my simple and homey pièce de résistance. Vanilla gelato (store bought, thanks) with a [insert fanfare sound effect here] homemade blueberry syrup. The things I failed to consider when deciding to make homemade blueberry syrup: 1) I don’t have a strainer (which I eventually found out would’ve been a good idea) and 2) I don’t have the faintest clue how to make syrup. I mean, I have a vague inkling, but apparently not that clear of an idea. So, yeah. That’s going to be something I need to research. I ended up just going to town on them with my immersion blender and then trying to strain them. “Trying to” because the only strainer I own is a little tiny one for a teapot. It didn’t work. So, we just have a kind of thick, slightly grainy blueberry sauce to go over our gelato. Meh, it worked and it still tasted great!

All told, it was a moderate success and I even have just enough leftovers for lunch today.

Monday, July 2, 2012

My Gluten-Free Story

I say “living” gluten-free versus “eating” gluten-free because it really is a lifestyle. Some things it is easy to substitute and others it’s easier just to cut them out all together rather than risk inducing cravings for fluffy, chewy, elastic, gluten-y goodness.

I found out that I was allergic to wheat, yeast, and gluten when I was 16 years old.  It was quite a blow and practically devastating for someone who lived off of sandwiches, rolls, and breads as a main food. When I was first diagnosed, I eliminated all wheat, yeast, gluten and dairy for six months. It was the hardest and best six months of my entire life.  Hard because I could rarely eat out, always had to bring my own food everywhere (being raised in a place where potlucks were next to godliness made this especially difficult). The "best six months" because during that time, I saw headaches lessen, and weight drop away --60 pounds in six months is nothing to sneeze at for a lethargic teenager.

After those six months, I decided to risk adding gluten back into my diet. It was done gradually. So gradually that by the time I moved out of the house for college, I was back to eating a ‘regular’ diet consisting of lots and lots of the things I should have not been eating.

None of this really mattered until about a year or two later when I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS was and is a nightmare. It’s difficult to manage and most doctors refuse to discuss treatment outside of birth control pills (BCP) unless you’re actively trying to have children. Needless to say, at the age of 20 I had no such desire, so I was put on a regimen of birth control pills and pretty much left alone.

The irony of the situation is that, while PCOS’ most well-known symptom is infertility, it is a debilitating syndrome that can also lead to heart disease, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and obesity, just to name a few.  I started doing some research on my own and found that PCOS had been linked to wheat and yeast intolerances or allergies. This was all very intriguing, but living on the money from three part-time jobs while going to school full-time did not give me the freedom and money I thought I needed to “go” gluten-free.

While I sometimes toyed with the idea of “going gluten-free” completely, I could never kick it completely. Even when going out to eat at a restaurant known for being gluten-free-friendly, I would get a gluten-free entree and get a side packed with gluten.

Eventually, I realized that all had to change. I’m not even sure of the exact day, but I do know that it was a sudden shift. I had started looking into PCOS again after basically ignoring it and going off of BCP for about eight years. When I was researching , I was always drawn to the natural options and the homeopathic recipes. I was not keen to go to another doctor and especially hesitant to go back on birth control as it regularly made me sick.  Once again, I started seeing more and more information about wheat and gluten being linked to PCOS. 

And then one day, I just stopped eating it. No wheat, no gluten. In my big ethnic family, this was especially hard as our gatherings are centered around food, and not just food, but huge, steaming platters of pastas, breaded entrees, rolls, and cakes. Every single thing that my grandmother prided on making for her family from scratch every week or so was laden with gluten. My poor grandmother who seemed to think that she needed to express her love for everyone through food was at her wit’s end.

So was I. Withdrawal from foods you are allergic to is not unlike withdrawal for someone with a drug or an alcohol addiction. It lasts weeks and features headaches, nausea, cramping, fatigue, lethargy, general crankiness, seeming insatiable cravings, and inconsolable mood swings.  All I wanted during those first three weeks (and even now sometimes) was a warm slice of bread slathered with butter or a plate of pasta with meatballs.

The important thing to note is that there is no “starting small” with going gluten-free. It has to be immediate and it has to be all-inclusive. Personally, it was easier for me to give up all breads rather than try to find gluten-free alternatives. Having PCOS, I was already pre-disposed for Diabetes, so trying to keep a low GI diet was next in line after eliminating gluten and many of the gluten-free options were just as bad as their regular counterparts in that respect.

So, here I am. I’m still overweight and I still crave gluten. But I know that I’m doing the right thing and that, even when it’s hard, that it will be worth it in the long run.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Recipe Makeover: Grain Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites

So, as part of my gluten-free journey, I regularly rework recipes (or at least try to!) to fit not only my dietary needs, but my tastes as well. I ran across this recipe when a friend of mine started pinning grain-free recipes on Pinterest. Since I had recently gone completely gluten-free again, I was excited to see a cookie that I could actually eat.

I tried them for the first time a few weeks ago and they turned out well, but I wasn't convinced. Especially as mine were significantly uglier than the lovely pictures posted on the Texanerin Baking blog.

What I did with this recipe. I love me some chocolate and I found the original 'dough' to have a chickpea flavor that I was having a tough time getting used to. So, I added cocoa powder to the batter, threw in some butterscotch chips and called it a day. Oh, and after rolling the cookies, I pressed them down with a fork a la peanut butter cookies.

My final recipe:

2 cans of chickpeas (drained, rinsed, and dried)
3/4 c. peanut butter
3/4 c. honey
2 t. baking powder
2 T. cocoa powder
3 t. vanilla extract
1 c. butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine all ingredients except the chips in the food process. Then, fold in the butterscotch chips. (My dough was a little runny, so I ended up chilling it in the freezer for about a half hour.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and roll the dough into bolls. If you find the dough sticking to your hands, wet them and then roll. Bake for about 10 minutes. Afterwards, I like to let them cool on the rack and then froze them before bagging and popping them back in the freezer.

The final result. It's almost an I-can't-believe-it's-not-gluten moment!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Eating Out

OK, so this isn’t exactly about cooking, but learning to eat out gluten-free is just as tough (or worse!) as learning to cook gluten-free.

Singapore Mei Fun -- This is a dish that most American Chinese joints will feature in their noodle dishes. Singapore Mei Fun is a dish usually made of rice noodles, a mixture of proteins (pork, shrimp, beef, etc.), vegetables, and curry powder. The curry adds a lovely spicy sweetness that makes this dish unique.

Salads -- In general, I do not like salads. I find most of them bland and boring. However, if you can find a really good salad (particularly an entree salad), it’s a great option to order as most of them are gluten-free.
One of my favorites to order is a wedge salad. These are generally crisp, wedges of lettuce served with bacon and bleu cheese dressing, sometimes with avocados and/or sprouts. Just make sure to ask them to leave off any croutons that may be included.
Indian Food --  the majority of Indian cuisine is made without flour and when it’s included a lot of the time it’s almond or chickpea flour.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Gluten-Free" Wolves in Sheep's Clothing!

These are the wolves in sheep’s clothing! It’s tough to get used to reading all the labels of everything you eat, but it’s worth it as there are many things that we think are gluten-free that really aren’t.

Soy Sauce -- Soy sauce is actually made with wheat as well as soy. Stick to Tamari, soy sauce’s gluten-free cousin.

Morning Star brand freezer goods -- Most of their products actually include gluten, even though you would never think it.

Buffet items that appear gluten-free -- Just last week, I started to pick up some barbecue ribs from the buffet at Whole Foods, but there it was plain as day: “wheat” written under the ingredients section. There was also wheat in the chicken, the potatoes, and the fish.

French Fries -- Depending on the fast food chain you visit, some of their fries are coated in flour and those that aren't coated in flour are usually cross-contaminated because of being fried in the same oil as other gluten-filled items. Be careful!

Wings - Often, just like french fries, these are dredged or even battered before frying.

Spelt Bread -- This is advertised as a great option for people with wheat allergies, but it still contains gluten, so steer clear of spelt.

Soups -- Many soups (particularly cream-based) are thickened with flour

Vegan/Vegetarian options -- I can’t begin to tell you how many well-intentioned people have tried to introduce me to vegan or vegetarian options that are not gluten-free.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Wonders of Chickpea Flour

Okay, so it isn't so much "wonders" as it is just good. I picked up some chickpea (a.k.a. ceci, gram, or garbanzo) flour at my local Italian imports store this weekend to see what I could do with it. I'd used regular canned chickpeas before in cookies (yes, cookies!), but never tried the actual flour. It was time to remedy that situation.

The chickpea flour was incredibly cheap. $2.50/pound is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you're used to seeing alternative flours for up to $11/pound (almond flour, anyone?)!

I brought it home and immediately started searching for recipes. The first one I found was for a chickpea pancake. On further investigation, it was a thin crepe-style pancake made of just chickpea flour, water, and a pinch of salt. Sounded easy enough. So, I went to work.

I decided to use my 'pancake' as more of a tortilla and set about thinking of fillings. As I live alone, keeping fresh produce from going bad is quite a chore in my house. Because of this, I tend to rely on a lot of frozen veggies. I sauteed some frozen broccoli with garlic for the filling, but was then hit with inspiration.

I had been craving fried chicken for months now. What better to try with my new flour? I ended up mixing equal parts of chickpea flour and Parmesan cheese in with some herbs and a little salt and pepper and then pan-frying the chicken. And it worked! It actually tasted good. Color me surprised.

So, my 'tortilla' was filled with garlic broccoli and fried chicken. It was delicious. But way too filling. One pancake was huge and so dense, it probably could've served for two meals.

Yay, fried chicken!

It tasted a lot better than it looks, trust me!