Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Kat's GF Drive-Thru"

So, I don't know about you, but sometimes I have weeks where I'm so uber-scheduled that cooking just isn't an option. This evening we had an appointment immediately after work and had to grab dinner in the car. Before-celiac that would have been simple - hit up McDonald's or Burger King for a high-fat, high-calorie, and highly-portable meal. Alas, that's not the case anymore.

Sure, some fast food restaurants - most notably Wendy's - do have fast food options. However, all of them require sitting at a table with utensils to eat. Salads, baked potato, chili - while it's wonderful to have those options none of them are exactly portable.

Our usual strategy is to pack a few things in the car to tide ourselves over until we're able to get home. We're partial to string cheese, PayDay bars, peanuts, Os-Trim sticks and gluten free jerky. They're good in a pinch but what inevitably happens is, by the time we get home we're completely ravenous and tend to overeat when we are finally around food. No, they're not good enough.

And finally -- my husband is what you'd call a picky eater. He's got a lot of foods on his list that he won't eat - any berry or berry flavor (yes, including but not limited to strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry), anything with bananas in it or banana flavoring, fresh oranges, chocolate, carrots, any sort of squash, asparagus, avocado, tofu.... well, I could go on, but you get the point. It's never a problem to make this stuff at home where I can tell him to fend for himself if he doesn't like it, but I wanted to be a little more efficient for this.

And oh yeah, nothing with mayo for me (what, I'm allowed one thing to be picky about. :-))

Well, I came up with some ideas.

Portable Grilled Cheese sandwiches

I took some gluten free bread from our freezer, toasted it, buttered both sides (well, light margarine), and placed a few slices of muenster cheese. Grill on each side until the bread is lightly browned and the cheese is melted. Wrap in aluminum foil and bring an extra napkin or to, and you're good to go.

For a bit of extra flavor, add ham or portabello mushrooms to the sandwiches.

Pre-made burritos

I didn't do this one tonight, but the next time we make Mexican I'm going to make a little extra rice and beans, and wrap/freeze them with cheese and sauce in corn tortillas (I like Mission tortillas if I don't make my own, though they tend to be small). Brown rice tortillas would probably also be an option. They're freezable and can be nuked for a really quick meal.

How about everyone else? What are your gluten free on-the-go staples?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Gluten Free Birthday Party

Something pretty big happens in March 2010. Towards the end of the month, my husband turns 30. Since it's an age ending in a -0 (and because, though he vehemently denies it, I know he wanted a fuss made) I decided to throw him a surprise party with some of his friends.

Since, obviously, you can't have a party without some sort of food, I had to find a place that was willing to accommodate a gluten free menu. Since most of our guests were coming from the Schenectady area, it had to be someplace with available parking -- effectively ruling out downtown Albany. My husband also abhors regular bars - he'd much rather play games and have something to actually do. Finally, I wanted to keep it within a reasonable budget for approximately 30 people.

After making a few phone calls, I came up with the perfect venue: Diamond Eight Billiards. It's located in Latham and it's the best pool hall we've found in the area. It had everything we wanted -- pool, darts, foozeball, and a wonderful party manager, Irene, who went above and beyond to accommodate all of my menu requests. My goal for the party - I wanted my husband to be free to eat anything he wanted, and I wanted it to be good enough for all the other guests to enjoy.

The menu that Irene and I worked out:

  • Cheese and fruit platter
  • Veggie and dip platter (Marzetti ranch dip)
  • Tossed salad (Croutons on the side and gluten free Marzetti salad dressing)
  • Sausage and peppers (with gluten free sausage, of course)
  • Chicken and peppers
  • Chicken and mushrooms
  • Mild and Medium wings (broiled and tossed with sauce, instead of fried)
  • Potato salad
For dessert, Diamond Eight provided a brownie tray (not gluten free, but my husband doesn't like chocolate anyway) and we brought in an ice cream cake from Emack and Bolio's. This is another great place with amazing ice cream! The cake was a huge hit. While their website has a huge allergen statements that they cannot guarantee against cross contamination, the employees were willing to use brand new containers for this cake to mitigate that risk, which we greatly appreciated!

My mother, mother in law, and sister in law stopped by Diamond Eight that afternoon to decorate -- everything looked festive, the food was great (though, I'll confess, I ordered a bit too much - we're eating a ton of leftover wings right now), and my husband was thoroughly surprised. What made it even better, though, was that everyone was entertained for the entire evening. I reserved four pool tables that were constantly busy, they had karaoke, and overall a great time!

* Note: The puggle wasn't invited to the party, and, I'm pretty sure hates me after making her take that picture. But I couldn't resist including it. :-)

Recipe: Irish Potato Casserole

This weekend my husband and I went to a St. Patrick's Day party, and I was asked to bring "Something Irish." Now, while my family is quite Irish, I don't do a lot of Irish cooking so this posed a bit of a challenge to me. I was originally going to try my hand at Boxty but, let's face it, I haven't ever actually had a true Irish potato pancake before, so I wouldn't even know if I messed it up!

Well, as any good computer geek worth her salt would do, I headed over to Google and searched for Irish recipes, with an emphasis on quick and easy because this was three hours before the party started. I found this recipe for Irish Potato Casserole, which looked like a winner. It looked yummy -- who doesn't like potatoes and cheese?? -- and more importantly, I had most of the ingredients on hand already.

(Full disclosure: I'm not sure how actually Irish this dish is but I'm going with it.)

I made quite a few modifications and brought it to the party where it disappeared very quickly to rave reviews!

Here's my recipe:

Irish Potato Casserole
  • 5 large, peeled and shredded potatoes
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (use butter and not margarine!)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • minced onion/onion powder, garlic salt, and paprika to taste. (I just sprinkled some into the dish until it looked good - the recipe called for minced onion but since I didn't have any on hand I used onion powder)
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 1 8 oz. brick of sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. Butter a 2 quart baking dish
  3. Mix potatoes, butter, egg, spices completely together.
  4. Pour milk over top and bake for 20 min.
  5. Stir in half the cheese, add rest of cheese to top of casserole. Sprinkle paprika on top, bake for an additional 15-20 min. or until done and browned on top.

Everyone asked for this recipe last night, and it's definitely a keeper!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Weight Loss

I suppose it's time for a confession. You know how you can let a little weight creep up on you gradually and then suddenly be shocked at how much bigger you are now than a year ago/6 months ago? That happened to me this weekend.

Buying a pair of pants, I had to go to a size 10.

Psychologically, that's huge -- it's a two-digit number instead of a one-digit number. Even if you wear designer/men's sizes, it means going from a svelte number in the 20's to... 30.

There are always tons of excuses. I'm always super busy between work, school and homework. Days that I have class, I'm busy from 7:30 in the morning until 10 at night - not very conducive to healthy eating. I haven't wanted to cook a lot, prompting us to buy more convenience foods, and when I do cook I've been trying to watch our budget - that means I'll probably trade in light seafood for ground beef on sale. All in all, not good practices.

It stops. Now.

Overall, my meals aren't that bad.

Breakfast is usually one cup of coffee, some instant oatmeal, and a small container of yogurt (like the Fiber One 4-packs). (Full disclosure: We get Eco-planet gluten free mix for my husband, but since I don't have to be gluten free I get the cheaper Quaker stuff for myself).

A typical lunch is an Amy's frozen meal (I'm partial to her teriyaki bowl) and a piece of fruit like an orange. Unless I go out, then it's usually Subway, Panera, or something along those lines. And of course, I have to battle the urge to snack around 3 PM, and resist all the office snacks that magically appear.

Dinner is whatever I end up making. We eat mostly chicken, shrimp, and meatless dishes with cheese. And then, of course, dessert. Snacking afterwards. Candy is my downfall. Especially Easter candy. And of course, all the gluten free baking doesn't help because everything's just here!

Finally -- I am notoriously lazy about going to the gym. Mostly because using the cardio equipment at the gym (or the Wii Fit for that matter) is completely and utterly boring. I can go an hour on the elliptical, but the Lady GaGa album can only get me so far, until I just want to quit from sheer boredom (And how can my gym constantly play the Food Network!?).

So -- conclusions:
- I need to find some new lunches that don't give me the 3 PM slump. And NOT go out as much.
- I need to find some EASY, QUICK, and HEALTHY meal options for dinner - that are husband friendly, and fill me up to the point where I don't crave something sweet afterwards.
- I need to find a way to make working out interesting.
- If I don't lose about 10 lbs. by April 1st, I'm joining WW. (That's my deadline!)

Anyone else out there dieting/trying to shed some pounds before summer capris-shorts-and-bathing suit season?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ode to the Asian Supermarket

I'd heard about the new (ish) Asian supermarket on Central Ave, and I've driven by it countless times on my travels to Wolf Road, Northway Mall and the like. But between a busy schedule and being admittedly a creature of habit on the weekends I hadn't actually ventured in until this weekend. A friend (Thanks, M!) had told me that it was very good -- that, combined with the fact that it was spring break so I had no grad school homework, made it a good week to stop in and check things out.

I was impressed. And I will be returning regularly.

Let's just talk about flours. Typically, we go to natural food stores like Paradise Natural Foods and Green Grocer to stock up on gluten free goodies, and while we're there I'll load up the cart with flours to use at home. Partial to Authentic Foods (for their finely ground rice flours), I'd pay more than $10 for each 3 lb. bag. (Somewhere in the ballpark of $12-$14 depending on the type of flour). That's $3-4+ per pound for specialty flour! We sucked it up and spent the money figuring that it was part of being gluten free.

Let me tell you -- the Asian supermarket has bulk rice flour and tapioca starch/flour for 79 cents a pound. Less than one dollar! Their potato starch was $1.69/pound (Price Chopper sells a pound of Bob's Red Mill potato starch for upwards of $4/pound) and their sweet rice flour was also very expensive. We stocked up on those flours, and added a couple of other impulse buys like jasmine tea, rice pasta shells, rice paper wrappers, and Japanese bubble gum, all for under $20. We typically drop $50+ each time we stock up on flours at the natural food stores, so that was a huge plus for our wallet!

The only thing that I did NOT see at the Asian supermarket was brown rice flour. Unless I find a better price at a co-op I may still be paying a premium for it (but I like it just to add some fiber to things like pizza dough).

I'll be cracking open the bulk flours this weekend -- hopefully my baked goods will taste even better knowing they were a bargain. ;-)