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.