Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays - and Betty Crocker's Ginger Creams, Gluten Free

 Hope that everyone is enjoying a wonderful holiday season with friends and family! I hope everyone eats a ton of wonderful food as well!

My husband and I made Christmas cookies last weekend - one of his requests was a cookie that he had fond memories of from childhood, but we'd never made (even pre-gluten free days). Ginger cream cookies. I dug out my mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook for the original recipe (if you don't have a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 60's, the recipe can be found online here). I only very slightly modified it to be gluten free, but it was delicious, and neither of us could tell it was gluten free - no chalky texture and aftertaste that I associate with many gluten free cookies.

Gluten free Ginger Creams
Anyway, here is the recipe that I ended up using.

Ginger Cream Cookies
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup white rice flour
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Mix shortening, white sugar, egg, molasses, and water thoroughly. Sift together flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, baking soda, and spices and blend in. Chill dough until firm.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).
  3. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake about 8 minutes, or until almost no imprint remains when touched lightly. While slightly warm, frost with icing. 
What Ginger Cream cookie would be complete without frosting? Here, I used what I had on hand and decided to use the frosting recipe from Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom

  • 1/4 cup Butter, softened
  • 2 cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 2 Tbs. Milk (I used 2%)
  1. Mix ingredients together with a hand mixer. Frost cookies when cool. 
Make sure to store them in the fridge to keep the frosting hard, and take them out a couple of hours before you eat them.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

First post in a while.

It's been a while! Toward the end of the semester (well, trimester really) my computer died. It figures that it would be in the middle of a deadline for school! I have been doing most of my stuff from my iPhone, but blogging on that is a little difficult, and since I didn't want to use my work computer for obvious reasons... cue radio silence.

I'm not quite sure where to begin, so I guess I'll just update on the high points of what I've been up to in the past few weeks. Hopefully I'll be able to update this more frequently going forward. :-)

  • My marketing class has completed. I had to write an individual research paper on a marketing topic of my choice, so I chose to write about the impact of the rising popularity of gluten free foods on the restaurant and commercial food industry. I didn't do too badly - 97% - but I'm convinced this professor doesn't like to give perfect marks on anything. I'm just a wee bit of a perfectionist, though, so that always bugs me. ;-) 
  • I've been going to Zumba classes 2x a week and I am about to start going 3x/week (one will be a 90 minute boot camp class with Zumba and Butts and Guts). Hopefully this keeps me on track over the holidays! So far I've seen a difference in the way my clothes fit, though the scale hasn't budged an ounce. 
  • I found out that a new Chipotle is coming to Niskayuna, right across the street from Mohawk Commons. AKA 10 minutes from my house, very very dangerous - My husband and I love, love, love their food - and their gluten-free-friendly policy is very nice too. It was originally scheduled to open this week, but the opening has been pushed back due to some power  problems.
  • My mother's birthday is this weekend. I'm making my parents dinner to celebrate - Skillet jambalaya from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook. Yummy! I use Bilinski's chicken andouille sausage, and double the cayenne, but otherwise don't change the recipe in the least. It's a favorite, and requested by my mom. I scored some nice deals for her birthday on Black Friday weekend, but just in case she reads this I won't say what I found! 
  • With the holidays coming up, I've started thinking about high-calorie, festive food (thank goodness for those boot camp classes). The gluten-y thing I miss the most is spinach dip in a rye bread bowl. I would love to figure out a way to make this and bring it over to my in-laws' for the holiday. 

That's about all - will try to write more about food soon. :-) 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sick Comfort Food

For the past few days, I've been pretty under the weather - enough to call in not one but two days. For me that's practically unheard of - in fact, I think it's the second time I've been sick enough to do that in the six-plus years I've worked for my company. (Confession time: The second day I did answer e-mails and attempt working from home...) I thought I was getting better toward the end of the week, but today I woke up with a horrible sore throat. Figures, too - I was supposed to take my sister-in-law out for her birthday lunch as well as go to an honors society event at my campus this weekend. Oh well.

All that said - I have a few comfort foods that I always tend to gravitate toward when I'm not feeling well. And no, the standard Campbell's chicken soup (even if it were gluten free) doesn't make my list. Here goes - the foods I gravitate toward when I am sick:
  • Edy's Fruit Bars in Strawberry. My husband absolutely detests strawberry, but I think these are heavenly... for some reason, I only indulge in them when I'm sick! 
  • Apple Juice. I don't think there's any explanation necessary here... 
  • Egg Drop Soup. I love this stuff, and it's another thing that I never end up eating unless I'm sick. On Tuesday I tried making some of this at home using a recipe I found online, with less-than-stellar results. I'm not quite sure what I did wrong, though I did substitute fresh chives (which I've been out of since the first frost) with fresh scallions from my fridge. I'll confess, I usually go the easy route when I'm sick and get delivery from a local place (I have no idea if it's gluten free), but I can attest that PF Changs does have an excellent - and verified gluten free - egg drop soup.
  • Green tea. I'm a fan of Tazo Zen green tea, and Lotus decaf green tea (which I'm still upset has been removed from Starbucks line of Tazo teas). This is the only item on the list that I have on a regular basis, even when I'm not sick, but I only sweeten it with honey when I'm not feeling well. 
  • Jello, in either strawberry, cherry/black cherry, or lime. I occasionally make the sugar-free versions for myself, but the only time I break out the full-sugar packages, you know I'm not feeling well. 
  • Pasta with butter and salt. We don't keep regular pasta in the house anymore, but high-quality gluten free pasta like Pasta Mia or Bionaturae will work just as well. 
What are your go-to comfort foods when you're not feeling well? 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guilty Pleasure foods

Tonight was supposed to be book club night with some of my girlfriends. Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts, most people had to bow out before today, and the three of us remaining ended up canceling - mostly because traffic was horrible due to the first snowfall of the season. (Seriously, we live in Upstate NY. The roads weren't that bad, and people should really know how to drive in a little slush up here.) So anyway, my husband already had plans so that left me on my own for dinner.

You know what that means - guilty pleasure food time. We all have a handful of foods that we eat all the time when we don't want to cook/are on our own. Sometimes it's because we just really love the food that much - but usually it's because no one else in the house likes our concoctions, so when we get a chance to indulge, we do so shamelessly. I know my husband's guilty pleasure food is macaroni and cheese made from gluten free elbows and Kraft cheese powder. It's not that I don't like the taste of it - who doesn't? - but if I'm going to be completely honest here cheese just isn't supposed to be delivered in powder form. Maybe if you're an astronaut - but that's a big maybe. So whenever he's on his own for dinner, he happily makes his bright-orange mac and cheese. 

Me, on the other hand? I have a handful of guilty pleasure foods that I can think of. Leftover pizza heated up and dipped in Frank's Red Hot. French fries (those thin "fast food fries" that Ore-Ida sells work best) absolutely drenched in salt and dipped in honey. Loaded nachos - ground beef, refried beans, olives, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, and TONS of monterey jack cheese layered over tortilla chips (though my husband would be very upset if I ever indulged in that one without him!)

The biggest one though? A concoction that I found out about in college (probably while seriously inebriated) that sounds - and smells - absolutely vile, but tastes like heaven.

Fried Rice. Optionally mixed with Chinese boneless spare ribs. Mixed in with a LOT of Frank's Red Hot. And finally, mixed with some Ranch dressing. Sounds gross, right? ... Do Not. And I repeat, NOT, knock it before you try it. It's Chinese food combined with wings. The best of both worlds. (I just read this paragraph again - I think I can confidently strike the "probably" before "inebriated" regarding the first time I tried this). It stinks the entire house to high heaven, and causes my husband to gag if he's in the room while I'm eating it, but I LOVE it. So that's what I had tonight.

Now, the easiest way to do this is to order takeout. Unfortunately, I know of only one Chinese takeout location that offers gluten free food in our area - P.F. Chang's. (If you know of others, please share!) You can approximate this very easily with P.F. Chang's fried rice - see if they'll do a house fried rice with everything, otherwise get your favorite meat. Instead of boneless spare ribs, the GF Mongolian Beef works perfectly - just make sure not to mix in the scallions. Take everything home, mix with Frank's and ranch dressing, and enjoy!

Too much time/money/distance? Leftover, homemade fried rice also works pretty well with this as well.

Tell me, what are your guilty pleasure foods?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Second-Annual Pumpkin Carving

Last night was the second-annual pumpkin carving at our house. We had a couple of friends over, carved our Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns, and of course talked and ate way too much food. We also opened the first bottles of hard cider (the regular cider and the maple cider that we bottled in early October) to good reviews. I was glad to see that it was palatable and our hard work was not put to waste! (The picture on the left was my husband's work. I wish I could claim that level of skill!)

Anyway, we had a couple of cancellations at the last minute because of the autumn cold that was going around, so here was what we decided on for a menu. First, for drinks, we had apple cider - hard apple cider from our earlier bottling, and "soft" apple cider, heated on the stove top with cinnamon sticks.

I also made pepperoni pizza puffs (always a favorite), a modified stuffed mushrooms recipe (my husband's not a fan of too much spice, so I substitute the cayenne for seasoned salt and add just a teeny tiny dash of crushed red pepper flakes - one shake - so they're not too spicy), and then made holy-foodgasm caramel corn. No lie, this stuff is like crack.

Here's the recipe:
  • 1 stick butter (unsalted)
  • 2 cups golden/light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • big bowl plain popped popcorn
  1. Preheat oven to 250F. 
  2. Pop the popcorn over the stove in a bit of canola oil. Place the popcorn in a large baking dish (a disposable turkey pan is best) and keep it warm in the oven until you're ready for it. 
  3. Melt the butter on the stovetop over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it comes to a boil, let it boil for 4 minutes without touching it. 
  4. Take off the heat and add the baking soda and vanilla. It'll turn a really cool light color and thicken up immediately - that's normal. 
  5. Pour over the popcorn and stir so all the popcorn is coated. 
  6. Bake for 45 min, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool, break apart and serve. Pairs insanely well with (non-alcoholic) warm cider and cinnamon.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

White Pizza - Finally!

After a few trial-and-error attempts at making a white broccoli pizza, I finally succeeded! (No pictures because unfortunately it was late and it disappeared pretty quickly). White pizza is one of my husband's favorite pizzas, but every time I made it something was... missing. Finally, a colleague of mine (whose family name ends in a vowel) tipped me off to the trick to turn my white pizza from blah to yum. After diligent research using Google, suggested wine pairings are a nice crisp white like Pinot Grigio or bubbly.

Now... when I make pizza I almost never measure anything, I just eyeball it to taste. Because let's be honest, a little more cheese never hurt anything besides the waistline, and pizza is intended to be a treat so may as well make it good, right? 

So with that said, here goes.

(This is my standard pizza crust recipe. I started out by reverse engineering Pizzeria Uno's crust recipe and now I think it's better!)
  • 1 cup warm H2O
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 1-1/2 cups potato starch (The recipe will taste fine with just one cup, but adding the extra half cup makes the dough a lot more malleable. I've never been brave enough to *throw* the dough, but I can gently toss it.)
  • 1 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/2 cup white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 generous tsp xanthan gum (some might call it heaping)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • EVOO
  1. Place pizza stone in oven and preheat to 400 F. 
  2. Mix water, sugar, yeast. Set aside to let the yeast foam. 
  3. Mix together all dry ingredients in a stand mixer. Whisk together a bit until flours are completely combined. 
  4. Add egg, shortening, and water. Beat until thoroughly combined.
  5. Lightly grease a 14 inch pizza pan. I usually grease with shortening. 
  6. Using your hand, Roll the dough into a ball and start shaping it/flattening it out if possible. (If it's not just start pressing it into the pizza pan). Press into the pizza pan, making sure the dough evenly covers the entire pan. 
  7. Lightly brush the top of the crust with EVOO. 
  8. Bake for at least 10 minutes. Check it after 10 minutes, especially if you like a softer crust. I like a bit crispier crust so always keep it in for at least 15 minutes. 
  9. Take out of the oven and transfer to a pizza stone, and add toppings.

  • 6 Cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • Ricotta Cheese (Enough to liberally cover pizza shell)
  • Mozzarella Cheese (Buy one bag of shredded)
  • Chopped Steamed Broccoli (you can short-cut and use frozen veggies here)
  • Salt and Pepper 
  1.  Turn oven to broil.
  2. Sautee 5 cloves garlic with EVOO. Mix with Ricotta, season with salt and pepper. Spread on pizza crust. 
  3. Liberally sprinkle mozzarella on pizza crust. 
  4. Season entire crust with a lot of salt and pepper. Seriously - I went to the point of, "Wow, this is going to be too much."
  5. Combine final clove garlic with chopped broccoli. Sprinkle on top.
  6. Broil until pizza cheese is completely melted, and is starting to turn brown. Take out of the oven and enjoy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hard Cider

We have friends who are really, heavily into the brewing hobby. They make beer, hard cider, mead, you name it - and most of it is pretty darn good. Since they enjoy it so much and my husband is a fan of hard cider, we decided (with consultation) to give it a try.

We started by ordering the deluxe beer brewing kit from Northern Brewer, specifying the glass carboys (we had been advised that the glass carboys were better than the plastic carboys as a general rule of thumb, so we decided it was worth the slight price difference). I also stopped at the Homebrew Emporium in North Greenbush for some incidentals - yeast, additives, stuff like that.

So, making hard cider is - well, pretty darn easy! The starter kit gives you just about everything you need at first - a bucket, two carboys, all sorts of siphons, bottle caps, sanitizer, etc. as well as directions on how to use everything. The directions are geared more toward beer, but they can be easily adapted for cider.

The day before "cider day" we took a trip to Indian Ladder Farms, to pick up six gallons of cider. You want to stay away from the chemically pasteurized cider, but their cider is UV pasteurized so it's OK to use. An employee at Homebrew told me that you can request unpasteurized cider from Goold orchard as well but I haven't tried that yet. I also had two things of yeast - a dry premium wine yeast and a wet cider yeast - and some pectic enzyme to help with cider clarity.

We did two batches - five gallons went into the six gallon carboy with the dry yeast, and nothing else. The last gallon went into a separate jug with 100 mL of pure Canadian maple syrup (bought during a recent trip to Niagara) and the cider yeast. After two weeks of fermentation, we "racked" them - basically transferred them to new, clean carboys and got rid of the dead  yeast at the bottom of the containers - and let it sit for another week, and then we were good to bottle! I did backsweeten the cider with some wine conditioner (an insoluble sugar that will sweeten the cider without triggering additional fermentation) and we ended up with two cases plus of cider - the regular cider was 6% alcohol and the maple cider, due to the additional sugar content, was 7%.

It turned out pretty darn good - and naturally gluten free!

During cider season, I'm planning a couple more batches - with additional fruit, cinnamon and mulling spices - before trying my hand at vino. I'm excited!

Bake with Price Chopper

Last night I had the privelege to attend a holiday baking course hosted by Price Chopper at the Century House. Two chefs, Gail Sokol (professor at SCCC's culinary department) and Elizabeth Barbone (of East Gluten Free Baking fame) presented recipes. It was a wonderful time and I was so glad that Lisa from Price Chopper contacted me to tell me about it! 

Gail presented two (non-gluten free recipes) for a chocolate cranberry walnut babka and an espresso almond biscotti.

Elizabeth (whom I was delighted to meet in person for the first time!) presented a rustic apple pie (otherwise known as a galette) with my favorite granny smith apples, pumpkin whoopee pies with a wonderfully gooey marshmallow filling, and an easy-but-delicious chocolate bark that I am planning to use for my annual cookie swap with the girls! Of course, we got to try samples, which were delicious! (Confession, I brought my samples of Elizabeth's recipe home so that I could share them with my celiac husband - while everything was delish, we were both especially impressed by the pumpkin whoopee pie - I must try this recipe at home).

We did find out some good tips - at least, tips that I hadn't really known about beforehand. I was Tweeting a few of them during the event with the hashtag #BakeWithPC but here are some of the tips for you in blog form:

  • Dough scrapers are a useful little gadget - used both for molding dough if you don't want to use your hands or cleaning off surfaces. I must pick one up.
  • Whisks are recommended to thoroughly mix blended flours before processing (SN: I already do this, but I use the whisk attachment of my stand mixer rather than a hand whisk).
  • Never, ever use liquid measuring cups (with a spout) for measuring solids!
  • Sugar gets clumpy because it's hydroscopic - that means that is absorbs water from the air. Is that a Words with Friends word or what?
  • The Niskayuna Price Chopper recently had a grand re-opening and have expanded their line of gluten free products.
  • The crumbs at the bottom of the stand mixer are NOT to be ignored (what I usually do). Make sure to mix them in by hand, halfway through the stand mixing process, for better baked goods.
  • Gluten free all-purpose flour is NOT recommended for high quality gluten free baked goods (That said, some mixes are better than others. Betty Crocker/Bisquick mixes and King Arthur Flour are higher quality than many others).
  • Food processors can be used to mix all flours, etc. before baking. Interesting!
  • Never replace butter or other solid fats with oils when making pie crust or other doughs.
  • Tapioca starch, potato starch, and corn starch are pretty interchangeable in recipes.
  • While tapioca flour and tapioca starch are the exact same thing, potato flour and potato starch are notably different!
  • Many gluten free recipes are over-aggressive in their use of xanthan gum. Too much gum can make food gummy - and cause gluten free bread not to toast!
  • "Imitation" flavorings are legally required to be gluten free since they're derived from a synthetic rather than organic source. (Organic in the chemistry sense here...)
  • Don't ever use a wet sponge or paper towel to clean up spilled xanthan gum, as the moisture will result in a slimy mess.
  • Corn starch will not thicken sauces or other goods unless it comes to a full boil. 
Some of the bloggers I met throughout the evening (I'm sorry if I left your link off, if I did please let me know and I will add it!):

Sunday, July 24, 2011


This weekend we attended my cousin's wedding in Poughkeepsie, about an hour and a half south of Albany. I was honored to be a bridesmaid in the wedding - my cousin was a beautiful bride, and I'm thrilled to welcome her new husband into our family. It was a HOT weekend - someone told me the hottest on record in Upstate NY with a heat index topping 115 - but that didn't stop us from having a blast! Now, of course, this blog is primarily about food, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Thursday afternoon - we got into Poughkeepsie and I picked up my gown. My cousin picked out a-mazing black Watters and Watters dresses. There was a slight hiccup with the dress (I had asked for a modesty piece to be put in, and it wasn't) but they resolved the problem that afternoon and I went home with the dress for the wedding. 
  • In between bridesmaid dress headaches, we lunched at Soul Dog -  very close to the Grandview, where we stayed. If you are in the area, definitely check it out - hubby had a GF cheesesteak sandwich and I had GF fish tacos. Their extensive menu includes GF baked goods, bread, mac and cheese, chicken fingers, etc. The owner is celiac and a damn good cook. My husband went back there for a pizza for lunch on Friday as well while I was off doing makeup-and-hair-related stuff for the wedding. They also sell bread online via their website.
  • After the rehearsal, we went to Cosimo's for the rehearsal dinner. They had a gluten free menu with various pasta dishes, and my husband ordered a sausage pasta dish that was very good. 
  • Between the church and the reception, the bridal party traveled in style in a huge party bus. Complete with bathroom and back room with stripper pole. 
  • The actual reception was at the Grandview, and the food was absolutely amazing. Waiters took our orders for individual meals, and any of the meals could be made gluten free - my husband chose the steak which was served with veggies and mashed potatoes. The mozzarella and tomato salad served as an appetizer was naturally gluten free (and verified), and they served him sorbet for dessert instead of wedding cake.
  • The Poughkeepsie Grand's breakfast was rather lacking, but we walked across the street for diner breakfast that was very good, and the restaurant was very willing to accommodate gluten free. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lip Smackers

When it comes to makeup, I'm a pretty big fan. One of the first things I did after making the transition from college student to "big girl job" was ditch most of the drugstore Maybelline, Revlon and CoverGirl cosmetics in favor of Dior, Laura Mercier, Nars, Benefit, and the like. The only drugstore purchase I kept around were the zillions and zillions of Bonne Belle LipSmackers that I owned. I never found another chapstick-type lip product that I liked better, and I bought multipacks like they were going out of style, in just about every flavor imaginable. I kept a tube in my car, in my purse, on the bathroom sink, in my desk at the office... see where I'm going with this?

Anyway, for various hoardingimpulse-purchasing-related reasons, I haven't had the need to actually buy new LipSmackers for, well, a couple of years even though I wore the stuff like it was going out of style. Yesterday, though, my stash at the office ran dry - off I went to CVS, figuring that a new multipack would get me through the zombie apocalypseforeseeable future. I grab a package and flip over to the ingredient list out of habit - it's just wax and scent, after all, right? - and find it in big, bold letters: wheat. WTH?

I placed the mutipack of my beloved LipSmackers back on the shelf and hunted around the store for a suitable substitute. I remembered hearing that Burt's Bees were safe, so I bought a few different tubes - figuring that at this point I'd e-mail the company before cracking any of the tubes open just to be on the safe side.

I text my husband this story, feeling terrible  (I suppose we've solved the mystery of how he's accidentally been glutened without eating anything that could have remotely had gluten in it). He told me not to feel bad, it was a mistake anyone could make, and then started to check if the Blistex he uses on a regular basis is gluten free - and within a few minutes my iPhone dinged with a Facebook post from his best man teasing me about the attempted poisoning of my husband by lipstick. Love ya! 

Within a couple of hours Burt's Bees responded to my inquiry with the following e-mail:

Thank you for contacting Burt's Bees.

All of our lip balms, lip glosses, lip shimmers and new tinted lip balms are gluten free except for the Res Q SPF 15 Lip Balm and the Beeswax Lip Balm in the round tin container.  The Beeswax Lip Balm in the tube container is gluten free.  

While we can identify products in which we do not use raw materials containing gluten, we cannot certify that our vendors did not process these ingredients on equipment where contamination could occur. For the most accurate source of information, please refer to the list of ingredients on our website or on the product.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us.
So now I have a handful of tubes that are safe for me to use and still give my husband a peck on the lips. Unfortunately... I don't like the product as much. The texture isn't that great, and it's a little sticky. So far I've tried the original tube, the honey tube, and the tinted tube. Not a huge fan. Readers, what products do you use to moisten dry lips???

Also - I am now paranoid that I've forgotten to check other products. I'm on a mission to find out if Olay, Nars, Benefit, Laura Mercier, etc. are gluten free. (I think I'm safe on the Dior, because if he's ingesting mascara there would be something insanely wrong). Anyone ever e-mail these companies to find out more information...? I will be hunting down information very shortly.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

LiveGlutenFreely $5,000 recipe contest

Have you played with either the new gluten free Bisquick baking mix or any of the Betty Crocker dessert mixes yet? If you've come up with some fun new recipes using these mixes, and would like to share them, now's the time to do so - you could win a sweet five grand to do so!

Betty Crocker and MyBlogSpark are hosting a contest for holiday recipes using their new gluten free mixes. Interested? The full rules are at The contest is open today (June 1st) through the 30th, so it's time to start baking!

In the meantime, Betty Crocker and MyBlogSpark are giving away five boxes of goodies - one box of gluten free Bisquick and all four of their gluten free dessert mixes - to one lucky reader of this blog to get you started baking for this challenge. Interested? I'd say so!

As for me? I've already posted my entry. :)

To enter, post a comment to this blog indicating what kind of recipe you're planning to enter into this contest - or, if you're not into entering, what type of recipes would you like to see?

As usual, there are some rules to the contest:
  • Blog comments must answer the question above. 
  • Blog comments must contain an e-mail address or easy way to contact you, e.g. Twitter. If I have to do more than 30 seconds' research to find out how to contact the winner, I'll move to the next winner. 
  • Multiple blog comments from the same person will be disqualified. 
  • EXCEPT - You can gain an additional entry by becoming a fan of Kat's GF Kitchen on FB. (Already a fan? Just post on here that you're already a fan). Make sure I know who you are! 
  • Contest ends COB Friday June 10th. 
 Ready, set, bake!!! Good luck to everyone!!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mother's Day

First off, a Happy Early Mother's Day to all the wonderful moms out there!

Every year my husband and I host Mother's Day for our mothers, and this year my grandmother will be joining us as well. Other than gluten, I'm restricted by some of the spices that I normally use (which, as you know, is terribly hard for me as I use Frank's Red Hot like I drink water).

Anyway, here is the menu I'm thinking of (written before I actually go to the store, may change if I'm not a fan of some produce):

I don't want to do too much here, just put a couple of things out for people to nosh on while they're visiting. 

  • Scallops wrapped in bacon
  • Cheese platter

  • Grilled shrimp and veggie kabobs, basted in fat free Italian dressing. Optionally serve thai chili sauce as a side for dipping (not everyone's a fan, but I'm in love with it) 
  • Caprese salad (fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato - I like the organic hydroponic ones this time of year - and fresh basil leaves drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt/pepper)
  • Trying out a new recipe for almond wild rice
  • Gluten free macaroni salad (fail-safe in case the rice doesn't come out well :)) I'll also have baked potatoes on hand for people on low-fat diets.
  • Gluten free dinner rolls, baked from scratch.

  • Grilled pineapple, with Nutella.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Shrimp, naturally gluten free, high in protein, and low fat (although high cholesterol) may just be one of Mother Nature's best gifts to us. And, when they go on sale around $5/lb, they're not too bad on the wallet either. Regardless of whether we want to eat junk food, comfort food, or healthy, low-calorie diet food, shrimp is always a good bet to have in the freezer. Bonus: When stored in an airtight freezer bag, it defrosts quickly and easily in a cold water bath.

Typically, we like to keep 1-2 lbs of frozen, raw med-large shrimp in the freezer. I also buy the small, pre-cooked salad shrimp when Price Chopper has them on BOGO specials, because they're pretty versatile and can be used in a lot of dishes.

Looking for some ideas of how to use shrimp? Here are a few, ranging from super-healthy to super-unhealthy (but incredibly yummy). If you have a favorite way to serve shrimp, please share in the comments!

  • Shrimp cocktail. One of the easiest shrimp dishes to make, cold boiled shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce is incredibly yummy, and so good that it's easy to forget it's not that bad for you. 
  • Grilled shrimp skewers, basted with fat free Italian dressing. Serve with grilled veggies (I usually do portabella mushrooms, white mushrooms, red peppers, Vidalia onions and yellow squash), basted in the same dressing. 
  • Buffalo shrimp. I dredge raw shrimp in egg whites, gluten free Bisquick, and repeat. I then pan fry them in a bit of olive oil until they're fully cooked and golden brown - when they're done, I pour warmed-up Frank's Red Hot Buffalo sauce over them and serve them as an appetizer - spear with fancy toothpicks and eat (these work best with medium shrimp). 
  • Sauteed shrimp with basil over angel-hair pasta. 
  • Shrimp summer rolls. Rice paper, lettuce, and vermicelli. I haven't quite gotten this recipe down yet, but I use the salad shrimp for it. 
  • Jambalaya - shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken, veggies, lots of cayenne pepper, and rice. I use the recipe from America's Test Kitchen.  
  • Shrimp fried rice. I add egg, and whatever veggies I have on hand. Usually something like peas, carrots, onion, mushroom, etc. Salad shrimp can easily be used here in a pinch.
  • Shrimp alfredo over penne pasta. I use Classico alfredo sauce, and my special finish is to top with a bit of mozzarella/cheddar cheese (just a tiny bit) and sprinkle liberally with black and cayenne peppers. 
  • Coconut shrimp. Serve with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.
  • Shrimp dip. Canned or salad shrimp with cream cheese, a bit of soy sauce, and scallions. Mix together. Good "plain" on rice crackers or rolled up in rice paper wrappers and deep fried, served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hidden sources of gluten

My husband and I like to think of ourselves as “gluten-savvy.” Just a few examples:

  • I religiously read all food labels. If an item isn’t labeled gluten free, I’ll look online, or someone in our family will call the manufacturer to ask about the product and their gluten labeling policy.
  • When we first “de-glutened” our kitchen, I tossed all of the wooden spoons, colanders, etc. into a big box to give to my cousin who was just settling into a brand new apartment.
  • We own a dedicated gluten free toaster as well as a second, older toaster is boxed away in our basement in the event we need to toast wheat bread).
  • I – as the non-gluten free member of the household – always lick the envelopes when it’s time to pay bills every month. (Always thinking of the Seinfeld episode with the wedding invitations, but that’s an entirely different situation).
  • If I have to bake something containing wheat for an event, my mother allows me to use her kitchen instead.
  • I make sure the lipstick I wear is gluten free.

All that said – of course, we do have some gluten in the house. I don’t have celiac disease, and I’ve read there can be negative dietary consequences of eliminating all gluten entirely from your diet if you don’t have to for medical reasons. Now, I’ve never been much of a bread eater and my household rule is that my husband won’t eat anything that I – as a gluten eater – don’t think is sub-par. (The exception being Ian’s Waffle-wiches, which he absolutely loves). I also won’t keep any of the food that he used to love in the house, because that’s just too cruel. I’d say as a result, 95% of my diet is naturally gluten free.

The gluten in our house tends to be packed away – Chicken noodle soups that I keep on hand for when I’m sick, alongside the chicken and rice soups we keep on hand for my husband. Frozen meals and Velveeta Easy-Mac bowls for quick office lunches every now and then.  Beer in the fridge for when company comes over. Stuff that I’ve never bothered verifying to be gluten free, like Skinny cow chocolate ice creams (which he would never eat, since they’re chocolate). Or, crackers – because, let’s face it, I’m perfectly happy to shell out $$ for my husband to have good crackers,  but spending $5+ on a pack of crackers when I am perfectly fine eating the $1 box is insane to me. So I keep my own crackers, far away from anything else, and a dedicated jar of non-GF peanut butter for when the craving hits.

99% of the time I eat gluten away from home, but on the rare occasions when I do have it at home, I act like it’s a level 4 containment zone, wiping off counters with Clorox wipes, brushing my teeth, etc.

That said? We found another “gotcha” in the house. We buy Wellness dog food, some of which contains barley, and the puggle’s dog biscuits contain wheat. We never gave it a moment’s thought – since it never goes near my husband’s mouth – until one day when we were watching a movie and making popcorn. My husband gave the puggle a chew, and I absentmindedly called out “Make sure to wash your hands before you touch the popcorn.” My husband stopped, stared at me for a second, and exclaimed “I never thought of getting glutened by dog bones!”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Recipe: Baked coconut shrimp with dipping sauce

This evening, in an effort to escape the dinner rut my husband and I tried a new recipe that I'd found online for baked coconut shrimp.

I didn't have everything on hand and modified it to suit our preferences, so here's what I made:

  • 1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I had about 30)
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt
  • 2 cups flaked sweetened coconut
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  1. Preheat oven to 400F and grease baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Rinse & dry shrimp. 
  3. Mix cornstarch and seasoned salt together. 
  4. Dredge shrimp in cornstarch, then egg, then roll in coconut. Place on sheet. 
  5. Bake for approx. 16 minutes, turning halfway through. Shrimp will be pink and cooked through and coconut will be brown. 
I served with the following dipping sauce (a variation of one of my own concoctions):
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup orange juice (pineapple would be better)
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup
  • 2 tsp oil (I was out of sesame so used canola) 
Heat in a saucepan over med-high heat until thickened to the desired consistency, and serve.

Overall the shrimp went over very well. It's a bit rich and might be better off as a party app, but made a very satisfying dinner. I served with baked potato and steamed broccoli (mostly because that's all that was left in the house for veggie options).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring Cleaning Confessions

This past weekend, my husband and I spend some time organizing our basement - most people wouldn't necessarily consider this a fun task, but I'm not most people, and I found it kind of fun for an afternoon. (My husband always teases me about the fact that I organize the shirts in my closet first by sleeve length, then by color - in my SUNY Albany/single days I even had different colored hangers for "work appropriate" and "going out" clothes, but I've graduated from that - no pun intended).

Now, while I'm by no means ready to make an appearance on Hoarders, I was slightly surprised to see how many bulk flours, pastas, and other stuff I'd accumulated over the winter. I've always been a bit of a pack rat - during our move to the new house I finally got rid the suede jacket that I had purchased using my first paycheck at my high school job. (In my defense, it still fit) ... though, I still kept the cropped Michael Kors denim jacket with rhinestone buttons, lacy cami shirts for going out, and a whole bunch of other fashion catastrophes from my past.

While in the past I've talked about the importance of stocking certain pantry staples, I didn't know I was a food pack rat too! :-) Those pastas? 3 or 4 deep, except the Asian pastas which are piled all over the place. And the flours? Tons of bulk bags of different types of flours from the Asian Supermarket.... the plastic airtight containers are the flours that I use for scooping when I bake in that kitchen.

I suppose the bright side is, we're ready for the zombie apocalypse.

Now, pardon me while I go clean out my closet with a garbage bag...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Parents Picket Girl with Peanut Allergy!?

This afternoon I came across this article, where parents are protesting a school's accommodations for a girl with extreme peanut allergies - to the point of asking her to withdraw from the school (OK, I'm a little behind on my news).

Wow. At first I really didn't have any words.

Now - I feel fortunate that no one in either my family or my husband's family has a severe peanut allergy. We have gluten intolerance and celiac, but that's the only thing we know of so far. Still, just based on the constant worry of cross-contamination I can feel for some of the precautions that the parents of allergic children are asking the school and students to make.

My thoughts?
  • Is this girl's allergy really so severe that she cannot eat in the same cafeteria as someone with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? If she can be in the same room, I think it's paranoid and oppressive to make her eat somewhere else. Kids want to be "normal" and part of that is sitting at a table with all their friends. (I realize that some people will be affected by the smell, but to my understanding that's an extremely small segment of the population).
  • Asking classmates to avoid snacks and wash their hands before class? The snacks are a no brainer - we certainly weren't allowed to eat in class when I was in school. With childhood obesity what it is, this seems to make sense as well.
  • RE: the hand washing, with rampant flu this makes sense regardless of food allergies. If I was the school administration, I'd make everyone do this just because I'd want to avoid the spread of germs. Peanut allergies are almost secondary. If handwashing is too much of a pain, distribute antibacterial hand gel and make everyone clean off their hands. (And re-evaluate exactly why so many people get sick in an academic environment).
  • Encouraging students to brush their teeth/rinse their mouths? I'm on the fence - given the astonishing ignorance of their parents this might be the only time in a day they are given the opportunity to brush their teeth. But it does seem a bit excessive to me. It's not like the students are going to be making out in class, and if they are then the school has many more problems than allergy accommodation.
  • Hiring a peanut-sniffing dog? Overkill. Come on. This is just asking this girl to be teasing fodder for the rest of her school career - especially if an athletic star is caught with a PayDay in his backpack that he intends to eat after sports practice.
  • Make the girl carry an epi-pen on her at all times. In fact, all of her teachers should have a spare as well, just in case.
As far as the parents picketing the school? Oh. My. God. Just grow up. If your precious little snowflake seriously harms or even kills a child with a serious allergy over something as preventable as washing your hands, I would HOPE that you both would be completely devastated. Why take the risk? All you are doing now is raising entitled, selfish brats who don't think of anyone but themselves. Retract the helicopter wings now and you might have a shot at a raising a decent adult.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movie Theater Concession and Nutrition Labelling

I came across a rather interesting article regarding movie theater popcorn and proposed legislation to force theaters to disclose the nutrition information in their concessions - and suggesting that they include alternate, healthier movie snacks such as yogurt, granola bars, and vegetables along with their traditional fare.

Now, I'm a bit torn. On one hand, I'm all for truth in labelling and see this only as a good thing. I mean, one of my once-or-twice-a-year guilty pleasures is going to an earlier evening movie, and making a dinner out of popcorn, nachos, and movie theater candy. Especially if it's a traditional summertime "popcorn" movie - nothing beats a hot day killing some time in a frigidly air-conditioned movie theater with my sweetie, hands greasy from dipping into the super-duper-extra-butter popcorn bag (and of course, pockets full of salt packets for the inevitable sodium drop-off after we skim the top layer of popcorn), interspersed with chewy sugar bombs like Skittles or Starburst. Or, if we're feeling incredibly sinful, we'll have theater nachos: corn chips covered with warm, goopy neon-orange "cheese" that just tastes unbeliavably yummy. All while slurping down a Diet Coke twice the size of my head.

Afterwards, of course, I always feel incredibly guilty and atone by tacking on extra workouts (never hard in the nice weather) and eating boring green salads for the next week - with none of the fun add-ons like bacon, bleu cheese, etc.

Now. Labels are good - and I want labels - because a) I like to know exactly that I'm eating and b) It almost goes without saying, but anyone with a food allergy/insensitivity/restriction wants the added assurance that what they're eating is definitely safe. While we've always encountered wonderfully accommodating theater staff who bring out labels for us to read, more disclosure is always a good thing in my book.

Would it cause me to eat less? Of course! I mean, I love the Cheesecake Factory but after realizing how many calories I was consuming in my favorite dishes, I definitely reduced the amount of food that I consume when I go there. A mixed drink for 300, 400 calories? No, thanks, I'll stick to water. Salads that are just as calorie-dense as some of the huge dishes? I'll pass on the salad and force myself to eat only half of the entree I order. Appetizers, dessert? Definitely not (or at least, package it in a to-go box for later consumption).

Would I still go and order food? Yes - and the frequency probably wouldn't change. I mean, once a year or so isn't that bad to have a big blow-out. I may not eat quite as much - perhaps going for drinks and a salad beforehand rather than scarfing down the entire meal at the theater - but once in a while, it's probably not going to kill me.

Would I order healthier food?

Um, no.

To me, eating a yogurt or crudites while sitting in a chair in a large room full of strangers, eyes trained at the movie theater screen - is as foreign and distateful as those yahoos that sometimes sneak an entire fried chicken dinner into the theater with them, making the entire room smell like fried chicken, crinkling aluminum foil, and passing sides like cole slaw. (Yes, I've actually seen this).

Yogurt? If it requires one or more utensil to eat, it's probably not a good idea to have in the theater. Let's stick to finger foods here.
Crudites - most likely with dip? Well first of all depending on the amount and type of dip, this might be the nutritional equivelent of the buttered popcorn. But with that aside, most veggies - carrots, celery, etc. - are crunchy. I'd feel paranoid throughout the entire movie that I was the annoying loud person every time I chewed - or more likely, I'd be the person shooting dirty looks and wishing bad things upon the loud chewers. And really, I don't need the bad karma.

No, I think the content of movie theater snacks should remain the same. I mean, I'm not opposed to some healthful changes - like using better oils - but if I wanted air-popped kettle corn with no added salt, I'd have made it at home.

That said, I do think the industry would be well-served by re-vamping their portion sizes. A "small" soda is ridiculous! I mean honestly, who can drink that much in the span of two or three hours without getting up for a pee break or missing the movie, or ruining the end of the movie for themselves by tightly crossing their legs until their eyes turn yellow and counting down to the credits when they can make the mad dash to be first in line for the bathroom? Plus - I drink diet soda, but most people drink something sweetened - now that is a lot of calories before you even get to the concessions. Offer a 12 oz size, and people would buy it.

Popcorn too - I understand the need for larger sizes, and my husband and I usually share a small. But since it's never good the next day, you're forced to finish the entire bag and feel like a pig or else waste a ton of food. And while some people can, and want to, put away that much, and other people share with a large group - other people go to the theater alone. Or want just a little bit. A single-serving popcorn (think, the size of one of those 100-calorie microwave popcorn bags) would work well here.

Finally, theater candy. Do we really need huge boxes when the size sold at grocery checkouts would do for most people? Better yet - get some bulk bins in there so people can take what they want, how much they want, mix and match, and then just pay by weight. (Crossgates already has a bulk candy store, FYI).

So overall -- nutrition labelling is a great idea that I support. But before revamping the theater menu, understand that individual-sized portions are likely to have a warmer reception than, say, swapping out the nachos for granola.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stuff Every Restaurant Should Do

Last Saturday, my husband and I devoted about half a day to running errands in and around Albany. Since Saturday is traditionally our grocery shopping day and the last week had been extremely hectic, we didn’t have much food in the house and didn’t really feel like doing grocery shopping just yet. (I hope that other people have been there and we’re not just slackers who sometimes dread the chore of menu planning and grocery shopping). With a couple of unforeseen snowstorms and the warmer weather upon us my pantry has been slowly emptying, to the point where all we really had in the house were yogurt – which I live on and my husband hates – and cottage cheese and cheese curds – which my husband loves dearly but make me gag. Neither was going to make a satisfying lunch, so we decided to just leave in the morning and pick something up while we were running around.

Fast forward a couple hours later, and we’re driving down the Northway debating what to eat. Since my husband was driving, I got iPhone duty. Remembering that Moe’s recently launched a line of gluten free products, I suggested stopping at the Moe’s on Wolf Road. My husband asked me if I knew what was on the gluten free list – I remembered they had rice bowls, but since I can count the number of times I’ve eaten there on one hand I didn’t know what condiments are safe. Enter the iPhone – I Googled “Moe’s allergen” and the first result was a PDF from titled ALLERGEN – it looked like exactly what I needed.

I clicked on the link… and was redirected to Moe’s mobile homepage. What!?!? To add insult to injury, a minute of surfing around on their “mobile” site didn’t give me the information that I wanted – and every time I tried to view their regular site or click a link from Google I went right back to the Moe’s mobile homepage. Ugh! After a couple of frustrating minutes, I gave up and we headed further down the Northway, eating lunch at the Chipotle in Stuyvesant Plaza. (SN: We had a yummy lunch that made up for the so-so grand opening we attended when they first came to the area. I was very impressed that not only did the employee making our tacos change his gloves, but they also brought out a fresh, uncontaminated tub of cheese.)

Now, admittedly I’m a computer geek and technophile, but Come. On. There’s no excuse for that – especially in this day and age when mobile search is the norm and people have come to expect data instantly at their fingertips. And the fact is, companies lose business by not making information accessible to their customers and potential customers. Not only did Moe’s lose our business last weekend, but since we had a favorable experience at Chipotle we’re going to remember that the next time we get a hankering for tacos.

So – here’s my list of stuff that I wish every restaurant would do – I think it would benefit smaller restaurants as well as big chains:

First of all – make sure your site is accessible for everyone! Yes, that includes home computers, tablets, phones, etc. etc. etc. By all means leave the stupid Flash animations off your mobile site. But an allergen list? You’re really going to make that inaccessible on a mobile device? I don’t care if it looks all pretty on the mobile phone, I’d be fine with a PDF or a text list of what I wanted to know.
Always make the following information available on your site:
  • The entire menu. Preferably with prices. Specials of the day would also be great.
  • Calories and nutritional information as long as it’s available... Ingredients are good to know as well!
  • Allergen information. For Every Product. And by the way, if you offer gluten free bread or something else along those lines, please mention it somewhere on your site so I know to ask!
  • Address and directions. It’s very easy to embed Google Maps into your site. Use it or at least link to it.

Bonus points for making the following information available on your site:
  • Company guidelines for processing allergens. Happy to accommodate requests to change gloves? Why, thank you Chipotle for letting me know! Things like that make me more confident in the establishment I’m choosing to patronize.
  • Have a local/sustainable/organic/ethical/green/other policy on the food you provide? Please tell me – yes, sometimes that information will sway me to choose one restaurant over the other.
  • A way to make reservations/order takeout or delivery through the website.

And finally, the stuff that I really don’t care about and would prefer not to see on your website at all:
  • Silly flash animations, music, videos… I want to go there for a meal, I don’t want to experience sensory overload by hitting your homepage.

As for the non-website-related stuff:
  • Please make training mandatory for servers. All servers should know, for example, that gluten free means no bread products. I always get nervous in these cases, because you don’t know if the server goes back into the kitchen, rolls their eyes and just picks croutons off the salad they initially brought out.
  • If you’re going to have gluten free offerings, please do some research. We often eat at Topp’s Diner in Rotterdam – while they have some great options and are generally willing to accommodate gluten free, it makes me nervous to hear a server say “Well, that’s gluten free as long as you can eat rice.” And trust me, I’d rather have a server go into the kitchen and ask a question than give me an answer that I have no confidence in. Similarly, we went to Benevento’s in Scotia offering gluten free sub rolls. When asked what meats and condiments were OK the owner – yes, owner! – said “I don’t know, shouldn’t they all be?” … Needless to say, we left without ordering.
  • If you’re going to offer things like bottled salad dressings, having preprinted allergen lists would help tremendously. “We serve Ken’s salad dressings, and we print their gluten free list every month. This is current as of X” would make me want to hug a server. Then leave a humongous tip.
  • If you’re going to offer a gluten free menu at all, please make sure that the food is good. I know I’ve carped on this in the past, but nothing bugs me more than “Order this yummy dish – but request that it not be breaded, the kitchen holds the tortilla strips, hold the sauce, substitute the mashed potatoes for a plain baked potato, and hold the seasoning on the vegetables.” Once in a while we have to eat at establishments like this – when we’re traveling and there are no other options, or if we have to attend a social event somewhere. But if I have the choice to spend money somewhere, and the restaurant treats every single gluten free menu item like I described above? I figure they must not want my money. And, by the way, we often order booze when we dine out. And, I like to frequent places – and bring friends/tell other people - that I like again and again. Oh yeah, and I waitressed in college so a server really has to try to get less than a 20% tip. But, that’s not a lot of money, now is it?

What other things would you like to see restaurants do, both overall and to cater to restricted diet communities?

Monday, March 14, 2011


I have a confession to make.

For a while I was boycotting Starbucks. Between pulling the delicious and gluten free orange valencia cake to being infuriatingly inconsistent with the information they provide about the gluten status of their drinks, it was mostly a point of principle.

However, I've gone back. I'm not quite at my previous five-latte-a-week habit, but I've had two lattes so far today. (Full disclosure before you think I'm absolutely terrible: as I'm writing this it's the day after we "sprung forward," I worked an eight-hour workday and I am currently waiting for an evening class running 6 - 9:45 to start). They're delicious, and the caffeine boost - especially when workplace coffee leaves much to be desired - is a godsend.

I'm torn - I love their products, and there are really no convenient alternatives for me based on where I live and work (I hate Dunkin' Donuts). But Starbucks as a whole would leave a much better taste in my mouth (no pun intended) if they (you, if you're from Starbucks and reading this) did the following:
  • Decide if you want to cater to the gluten free community or not. The orange valencia cake was great, and I can understand pulling it. But then "replacing" it with poor substitutes? I mean, really... who wants dried apple slices with their macchiato?
  • And when it comes to specialty drinks - please train your customer service representatives to be consistent. If I call twice and e-mail once, I'll get three different answers. And while I get that e-mail is persistent and that in this litigious day and age you want to CYA -- it's really not helpful to only say "Um, everything can be cross contaminated." Especially when your reps will tell you which drinks do and don't have gluten. In the corporate world that's the equivalent of giving the finger (with an upward shove for emphasis) to the entire gluten free community.
  • Get some gluten free prepackaged snacks. I mean look at the protein plate - would it be really hard to replace the meusli bread with flax crackers and make -one- gluten free grab-and-go option?? We're not talking gluten free bread or pastries here. It's not THAT complicated and it would make a lot of people really, really happy.
Do you have any other beef with Starbucks?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Belated Menu Plan 3/4 - 3/11

I've gotten a bit behind on my blogging - between schoolwork, work work and other stuff going on in my life I haven't had much time to cook let alone write about it. :) We had a busy-but-fun weekend, and believe it or not I did plan out my meals for the week.

OK. So here goes.

We had two of our good friends over for dinner. These friends prefer to eat vegetarian/low on the food chain and brought a delicious tortilla espanola as an appetizer, so I made the following:
  • This Indian Relish appetizer, mixed with cream cheese and served with rice crackers. OMG was it crazy-addictive-good. It was even better the next day. I am in LOVE.
  • Cajun stuffed peppers. I split them up half an half - some had chicken andouille sausage and others had portabella mushrooms. All had hot sauce, rice and monterey jack cheese.
  • Green salad.
  • Dessert: Fresh fruit with a Cool Whip-and-yogurt dipping sauce.
Leftover stuffed peppers for dinner, and leftover fruit dip for dessert.

I made ribs, slow cooked in the oven with Dinosaur BBQ sauce (yummy!) and served with baked potato and creamed corn.

This mini frittata recipe (though I plan to add green pepper as well), served with hash browns and green salad.

Chicken tenders baked with Bisquick, frozen veggies (probably green beans) and a starch TBD. Either a baked potato or some type of rice.

Pulling some chili out of the freezer for dinner, with green salad for dinner. Since I don't have to commute that day, if I feel ambitious I'll make some crusty Italian bread to go along with it.

Leftovers night.

Leftovers or takeout, depending on what we have/are in the mood for.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cooking Rut

A while back I posted about the dinner rut - when you keep making the same few dishes for dinner, until you're so sick of these dishes that you just want to scream. Well - I've lately found myself in something similar: The Cooking Rut. I come home from work, and I just Don't. Want. To. Cook. At all.

Now - this is due to a lot of things. Some of them:
  • Work. I feel blessed to have a job that I love (and a husband that understands my geeky tendencies), especially when I have something really cool to work on - which has lately been the case. But the fact is, sometimes I'm much more interested in what I get to play with at the office than cooking tonight's dinner - especially if it's something boring from the dinner rut.
  • Grad school. Even with a partially online class, I have to set aside so many hours each week for reading and schoolwork, which is draining. Sometimes I just want to relax with a glass of vino afterward and not worry about dinner.
  • Other commitments. My weeks lately have been insanely hectic. Between work functions, appointments, last-minute vet visits, and social plans I sometimes have two days in any given week when I'm actually home. That catches up to a person.
  • I ballooned up over the holidays and since I already ordered a bridesmaid dress for this summer, I want to be sure not to rip the seams. I've been pretty good, but focusing on healthy meals tends to go into the dinner rut danger zone.
But.... wah, wah, this is the real world and everyone has to deal with that stuff, right? Unfortunately neither my budget or waistline will allow for eating out at every single meal, so that means sucking it up and cooking.

First - here are the convenience tips NOT to do:
  • Don't rely on convenience food! I've been guilty of this in the past and I'm trying to be much better about it. It's very tempting to just pull out a box of Bell and Evans chicken or a box of Starfish Cod with a bag of tater tots or fries, nuke a frozen veggie, and call it dinner. And once in a great while, that's fine. Once every other week, though... that's just asking to gain weight. Especially if you're like us and break out the deep fryer for fries. It gets pricey too - I love Bell and Evans, but 8.50 for a box of chicken tenders that the two of us put away in one sitting...
  • Similarly, don't rely on takeout! When Cheesecake Factory and other restaurants started putting calorie counts on their menus, I was shocked. I always order fish dishes - and my favorite salmon dish there was over 1600 calories! It's not worth it.
  • Don't get over-ambitious. Buying $20 worth of produce intending to make a stir fry that takes an hour in the middle of the week? Not gonna happen. Don't even try.

So - here are the tips that I'm trying on for size to get out of the cooking rut:
  • Make ahead, make ahead, make ahead! There are a ton of really good dishes that make good leftovers - and freeze well. Sure, you can get sick of a crock pot full of chili day in and day out, but we have some containers in the freezer to pull out for an emergency. Same goes for rice and beans, risotto, jambalaya, stew, etc. Heating something up in the microwave or on the stove top isn't that time consuming.
  • Have a few "emergency" staples on hand. For me this tends to be frozen fish fillets or frozen shrimp (thaw for a quick thrown-together meal), tons of frozen veggies (easy to add to any dish), and carbs.
  • Have a go-to ingredient that you love, and can add to any meal as a motivation to cook. For me this is Frank's Red Hot. I can put this on everything (fried rice, popcorn, pizza, you name it). It might just be my favorite food. I promise myself hot/buffalo sauce on something, I'm more likely to cook.
  • If possible try to offload and have someone else cook once in a while. If we do breakfast for dinner my husband's all over that - and I get a day off.
What are your tips to throw together a quick meal when you Just. Don't. Feel. Like. Cooking?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Re-energizing after a workout

The other day I was shopping in the mall, when suddenly I began to feel a little light headed. I checked my watch - it wasn't even 11 AM, and I'd only had breakfast two hours ago, so I hadn't accidentally skipped a meal. I felt a headache, too, and bought a 1L bottle of water thinking that I may be dehydrated. It helped a little, but not enough.

After about fifteen minutes, it hit me - I had done a post-breakfast cardio workout of medium intensity, burning around 500 calories, and I hadn't had anything other than my usual yogurt from breakfast. My energy was flagging - fast - and I need something to pick it back up. I wanted something healthy, and not too high-calorie (after all, I didn't want to negate the effects of my workout!) I opted for four crackers with peanut butter.

That said, I thought it might be useful to compile a list of options to have on hand to grab after a workout to avoid a low blood sugar moment like mine.

This website and this one were the best summaries of nutritional requirements I could find after about 90 seconds of Googling. Basically, you need to make sure to keep hydrated both during and after your workout (check - I keep a case of water in our gym area). A snack should have both carbs and protein, though a shake or drink is an acceptable alternative to food.

Unfortunately, most of the suggestions you can find online aren't exactly gluten friendly. (Though I do like Men's Fitness' suggestion of turkey, cheese and apple slices - since apple with peanut butter can get a bit boring, this could really hit the spot).

Here are some protein suggestions:
  • Peanut butter (2 Tbsp)
  • hummus (2 Tbsp)
  • deli meats (a few slices)
  • cheese (2 oz)
  • yogurt (6 oz)
  • cottage cheese (if you can stomach it; I can't)
  • nuts (1/4 cup)
  • hard boiled egg (1)
  • tuna (again, if you're a fan - I don't do mayo)
  • skim milk (1/2 cup)
  • edamame (1 serving)

Here are some carb suggestions:
  • crackers (preferably whole grain - 4-6)
  • rice cakes (2-4)
  • fruit - apples, grapes, bananas, pears (1)
  • baby carrots (a small handful)
  • oatmeal (make sure it's gluten free) (1 package)
Suggestions containing both:
  • latte (12 oz)

So how to put them together? Try peanut butter on rice cakes with a sliced banana. Or have some oatmeal and a yogurt. Or cheese and grapes or crackers. Or one of my favorites, carrot sticks and hummus. Or treat yourself to a nice, skim milk latte.

What are your favorite recovery snacks?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Office Lunch Ideas

How many people have suffered from a purloined lunch at the office?

I know I have.

I'm not sure how frequently it happens -- I know that I had a couple of Amy's Teriyaki Bowl TV dinners stolen from our office fridge last year, and enough people complained for there to be signs, e-mails, etc. I'll be honest -- the first time my frozen dinner was stolen, I figured it was an accident and just wrote a pissy note on Facebook (where I'm friends with many co-workers). The second time, I took it personally and stopped bringing in frozen dinners unless absolutely necessary. Now, I'll either bring in homemade leftovers that don't seem to get touched nearly as often as TV dinners do, or I'll bring in portable, microwaveable lunches like Progresso soups that I can stash in a filing cabinet along with an iced tea and piece of fruit or yogurt.

Still, whenever I make leftovers I usually intend them for consumption on another night during the week (to avoid cooking after work, or to accommodate one or both of us having plans after work) so I usually don't have a lot to bring into the office. And, as many options as there are for canned soup, a girl gets sick of it after a while.

So here I'm brainstorming ideas for office lunches. The requirements are:
  • Must be (relatively) healthy and balanced. No lunch of three Snickers bars here, as tempting as that may be.
  • 9 times out of 10 I eat lunch/work at my desk, and I get pretty cranky when I don't eat on time. So going out, or delivery, aren't preferred options. (Plus there aren't a ton of options where I work)
  • Must be either something I can stash at my desk (i.e. doesn't need refrigeration) or something I can believably put an "I spit in this" Post-It on to deter thieves. (Actual spitting not required, just can't be a TV dinner).
OK. With that said, here are some ideas. I'm starting off with my typical lunch:
  • Can of Progresso soup. I stay away from the super-creamy, high-calorie ones so think Garden Vegetable or Manhattan Clam Chowder. 1 piece of fruit (think apple or orange) and/or 1 Yoplait Light yogurt. Approx. 400 calories.
  • Price Chopper sometimes has these mini shrimp cocktails on sale that make great portable lunch options. Stash them in a lunch bag with a piece of fruit or some nuts and you're good to go (risky, but I haven't -yet- had problems with my reusable lunch tote). Approx. 400 calories.
  • Salad. I like a similar-but-not-quite Cobb salad: organic baby lettuce, shredded carrot and red cabbage, avocado, bleu cheese crumbles, tomato, cucumber, garbanzo beans and light raspberry vinaigrette. Approx. 500 calories.
  • Container of hummus or guacamole and baggie of carrot- and celery-sticks. KIND bar (I like these because they're filling and low-glycemic, so you don't get the sugar rush and crash two hours later) or a banana. Approx. 500 calories.
  • Container of peanut butter, with crackers, celery sticks and raisins. Approx. 600 calories.
  • Pre-cut cheese, crackers. A baggie of grapes and apple slices. Approx. 500 calories.
  • Veggie sushi rolls. I'm partial to cucumber and avocado rolls. Make sure to pack some soy sauce. Add a baggie of edamame (I like mine with extra salt). Approx. 700 calories (at least for the size edamame that I pack).
What are your alternative lunch ideas?