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?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tex Mex Cheesecake

Recently, our good friends V and L invited my husband and I over for a movie night. L (the wife) e-mailed me a few days before we came over with a new recipe she'd tried, loved, and thought was gluten free but wanted to make sure. I figured that if she - a knowledgeable foodie - had questions, other people probably do as well.

The recipe in question is a Tex Mex Cheesecake and it can be found online here.

So, here's the ingredient list and gluten free breakdown. You may have additional brands, etc. that you know of, please feel free to comment!

Here is the ingredient list:

  • Butter - naturally gluten free.
  • Tortilla Chips - typically made from corn, and most are GF. If you're nervous and looking for a brand recommendation, we usually purchase Tostitos or the Santitas chips at the grocery store.
  • Cream Cheese - Price Chopper brand is on their list of gluten free items. Kraft is also fine as their policy is to label gluten. I can't imagine others being a problem, either.
  • Ricotta Cheese - I've never had an issue with ricotta. I usually buy Price Chopper brand.
  • Envelope taco seasoning - Old El Paso is owned by General Mills, and they have a similar policy to Kraft when it comes to ingredient labelling. As long as the label doesn't contain wheat it should be OK. Ortega has recently begun labelling some of their foods GF as well.
  • Adobo sauce - I've never had an issue.
  • Salsa - I've never had an issue. When in doubt make your own.
  • Monterey Jack w/ Peppers cheese - I've never had an issue; furthermore Price Chopper lists their brand cheese on their gluten free list.
  • Eggs - Naturally gluten free.
  • Chipotle Chiles in Adobo - I've never had an issue.
  • Scallion - Naturally gluten free.
  • Sour cream - Many are fine. Price Chopper brand lists their regular and light sour cream on their GF list, but not their fat free. Be warned.
  • Cheddar Cheese - I've never had an issue; furthermore Price Chopper lists their brand cheese on their gluten free list.
  • Black olives - Naturally gluten free.
The savory cheesecake (pictured above) came out beautifully and was absolutely delicious!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Winter - and missing fresh fruit

Ahh...mid-February. The time of year when I start going stir-crazy waiting for the end of winter. I'm sick of all this snow (especially this year!), wearing practical-but-decidedly-not-pretty boots and chunky sweaters as I trudge from my car to the office in a slushy parking lot, and I'm so used to cold and dreary weather that I'm thrilled to see the sunset when I leave the office for the day, and a day of 32 degree temperatures is exciting.


To top it off, this is the time of year when I yearn for good fresh fruit. Because let's be honest, there really isn't any.

We get spoiled in the Fall up here, with delicious apples everywhere we think of looking (including my own backyard), cider, and all the other apple-related products. Not only do we have apples upon apples upon apples, but we also have blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, and pears. Then December and January hit and we start trucking delicious Florida oranges and grapefruits up from Florida and other places. Unfortunately, just yesterday I ate my first tasteless orange from Price Chopper. Which means... the end of fresh fruit season until the Spring. (Don't get me started on the fact that it was one of those 5/5 oranges too).

According to Pride of NY we won't have any seasonal fruits until June or so (not counting things like apples which, let's face it, just aren't as good as they were in the fall) but realistically we'll start getting decent produce from other places starting around April.

(OK, OK, I saw unbelievable cherries at Price Chopper a couple of weeks ago, but I'm just not willing to spend $10 a bag... at least yet. Ask me in two weeks).

So what do we do until then???

There's always canned fruit, but there's so much sugar, and it's just not that great. Applesauce (I prefer the unsweetened variety) is good, but again, just not as good as the fresh apples we had in the fall - and I was dumb and didn't do any canning, which I definitely will do this coming season! I think I'm going to try out some frozen fruit to tide me over this month.

What do you do without good, local fresh fruit this time of year?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Menu Plan 2/12 - 2/18

It's been a busy week! Last night we attended the Italian Night event at the Glen Sanders Mansion. We always have a good time, though I'll admit that this year wasn't up to par. We've gone every year for the past seven or so years, and after my husband and mother-in-law went gluten free they have accommodated them by serving special dinners to them, including dessert. This year was the first year they included a comedian, but it meant that we didn't eat our main course until 10 PM - way too late for us, and by then the food was cold, the chicken was dried out... overall it was a bit of a disappointment.

Anyway. Here's our menu plan for tonight through Friday. Hopefully this is a calmer week than last week now that I'm starting to get into the schedule of work and school.

Saturday: Valentine's Day dinner. Fondue with shrimp, beef, veggies (3x mushrooms, they're our favorite, snow peas, red peppers, broccoli, any other produce that looks good at the store), served with baked potato, salad and vino.

Sunday: Fried (brown) rice with egg and all the leftover fondue veggies and meats.

Monday: Shrimp with diced ham over cheesy grits. Served with salad.

Tuesday: Leftovers for my husband, as I have a work function to attend.

Wednesday: Tacos.

Thursday: Leftover night.

Friday: Plans with friends, TBD.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Dinner Rut

Gluten free or not, we've all been there. The dinner rut.

Whether we methodically plan our menus out each and every week before heading to the grocery store with our list in hand, or choose to fly by the seat of our pants and just figure it out at the end of the day, we get to the point where we've been making the same old, same old stuff for more meals in a row than we'd care to count. Symptoms of the dinner rut include:
  • Opening a moderately-stocked fridge and woefully exclaiming "There's no food!"
  • Having a discussion with significant other/friends along the lines of "What do you want to eat?" "I don't know, what do you want to eat?" ... ad nauseum.
  • Throwing your hands up in the air and making poor food decisions - usually involving going out for high-calorie, fat-ridden foods... or, as my husband and I sometimes do, having a "screw the diet" night and eating something like cheese and crackers or queso dip and chips for dinner. Not always a terrible thing if it only happens a couple times a year, but when you're in a dinner rut it can happen enough to pack a few pounds on.
One of the problems with the dinner rut is, there really are options, but - at least in my case - I'm too busy, lazy, or whatever to realize them. I get into the habit of making the same few meals every week... and let's just put it this way, there are only so many ways you can make a roaster chicken that way before going nuts.

When I've found myself in dinner ruts before, it's usually been super-busy weeks when I'm only home to sleep or scarf something down really quickly before running another errand - and by the time I realize I'm in a dinner rut, it's usually bad enough that my foodie creativity is zapped and I listlessly flip the pages of the weekly grocery ads saying "nothing looks good!"

So, then, how to get out of the dinner rut? Here are some ideas that have worked for me:
  1. Buy a new cookbook and resolve to try one new recipe from the cookbook each week. I am in the process of doing that now -- and hey, while some of the meals are flops (like the pork tacos I made a couple of weeks ago), others are really good. And still others are OK, but I can think of how I would modify them to suit my tastes more. Usually that involves adding/modifying seasonings - I'm a spice and salt junkie.
  2. Switch up your typical grocery store. I like to shop at the Asian Market occasionally to pick up veggies that I might not see elsewhere.
  3. Set aside a certain portion of your grocery budget each week for interesting stuff. I have a pantry stocked full of stuff I can use when I feel like it - and looking at it will sometimes spark a creative dinner idea. Some of the stuff I like to keep on hand:
  • Sushi rice, wasabi powder and seaweed for sushi rolls. Spur of the moment cucumber, shrimp, or gluten free crabstick rolls, anyone?
  • Rice paper wrappers. Useful for summer rolls if you have vermicelli on hand, or if you want to be bad fill them with cream-cheese based rangoon filling and fry 'em up for poor mans' rangoons.
  • Risotto. I'm not talking instant, pre-packaged stuff, but high-quality rice that can be used to make an awesome Italian dish.
  • Different pasta than usual. I just bought some Pasta Mia! lasagna noodles and plan to try a lasagna one of these days.
OK, that's all well and good, but notice that just about everything on that list is carb-heavy. What about getting out of the dinner rut in a way that's healthy??
  • Pick a new veggie that you haven't cooked a lot with. Say, kale, eggplant, cauliflower... something that if you make at all, you only know a handful of ways to make it. Look up the veggie online to find new ways to make it. One of my favorites? Mashed cauliflower - you can't tell the difference between that and mashed potatoes.
  • Take advantage of coupons and specials. See that monkfish is on sale but never tried it? Well, now's a good time to do so!
  • On a day off, pick one of your favorite recipes that you never make because it takes too long. For me, this is my mom's shrimp creole recipe. It's unbelievably yummy, and pretty healthy for you - there's a bit of olive oil in it but the rest is just shrimp, veggies, and tomato over rice. Nothing bad there! It always takes a few hours to simmer everything down, but it's worth it in the end -- a lot of the times I forget how much I really do love it once I take the time to make it.
What about you? What are your dinner rut solutions?

Monday, February 7, 2011

GEGGF - Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Supposedly, if you eat breakfast every day it aids in weight loss (I obviously haven't seen this yet). Something to do with the whole "you won't be absolutely starving and pig out on everything under the sun at lunch time" strategy. All I know is I'm a bit of a bear to deal with before noon without coffee and something in my belly.

Unfortunately, traditional breakfast foods are absolutely riddled with gluten. Would you like your toast white, wheat, or French? How about English muffins, bagels, croissants, scones, pancakes, waffles... and that's before getting into the whole additives discussion.

But, you're reading this blog entry and I assume that you meet one of the following criteria (maybe more):
  • You're meeting someone gluten free (SGF) out for breakfast.
  • SGF is a houseguest of yours (Or Valentine's Day went really, really well) and you want to make sure they break their fast without straining your bathroom plumbingdistress.
Now I'm going to start off with the fact that, some of you crazy people might think leftover sushi is breakfast food -- good for you (it actually does sound a bit yummy). However, I'm going to stick with some more traditional breakfast foods for the sake of this post. You can use your imagination beyond that! Let's start with the easy one first:

Breakfast at Home.
Luckily, there are a ton of traditional breakfast foods that are cheap, easily accessible, and naturally gluten free with no effort required. They are included but not limited to:
  • Eggs (I'm talking in the carton here, not fancy egg-substitute things)
  • Most yogurts (I waffle back and forth - to me, nothing beats the taste of Yoplait - which is marked gluten free - but concerns for animal wildlife and the knowledge that it's better for you make me try to gravitate toward greek yogurt like Chobani - also gluten free).
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (But veggies aren't breakfast food, you say? I present you with a Spanish omelet. Lawyered).
  • Most cheeses you'd want to use for breakfast - read the label to be on the safe side, but you're probably good.
  • Potatoes. Again, I'm talking raw, in the bag, unprocessed here.
  • But, if you're in the mood for quick and tasty, check out Ore Ida's gluten free list for hash browns and tater tots.
  • Many brands of bacon. I usually buy Oscar Meyer, but I know that Bar-S is marked gluten free.
  • Many brands of breakfast sausage. I used to buy Johnsonville, but their site doesn't explicitly state their products are gluten free anymore. This may have changed - double check first or pick a different meat.
  • Many brands of ham and canadian bacon. I'm partial to Boar's Head because all of their meats, cheeses and condiments are gluten free - no reading labels for me!
  • Many cereals are gluten free. Start with Chex - Corn, Rice, Honey Nut, Cinnamon, Strawberry and Chocolate Chex are all marked gluten free.
  • Milk is naturally gluten free, as is butter.
  • Heinz ketchup is also gluten free.
So with that list - eggs and bacon, omelets, fruit and yogurt, cereal and milk... all good depending on how fancy you want to make breakfast. They do make gluten free pancake mixes (such as gluten free Bisquick) that you could try if you wanted to impress someone, but if you're just having someone over for one day chances are you have a lot of gluten free foods right in your pantry.

That said - some gotchas:
  • Use tubs of butter? Double dipping the knife can cause cross-contamination. When in doubt open a new tub. Same goes for peanut butter, jelly, and anything else that you dip a knife into and spread onto bread products.
  • Some cooking sprays like Pam for baking can contain gluten. Make sure to read the label or just use un-cross-contaminated butter this time.
  • Using gluten free toast? Toasters are the enemy. You probably don't have a virgin toaster handy, so use a toaster bag or just don't use it.
  • Don't use the same serving utensils for gluten and gluten-free foods.
OK -- so this sounds too complicated? Here are some tips for eating out:
  • Choose the place wisely. A lot of diners can accommodate you, but make sure to call ahead and ask. If the manager asks "What's gluten?" it might be a hint to try a different place.
  • Always make sure to ask for "no toast." Even if you say the meal has to be gluten free - trust me, I waitressed during my college years and sometimes you get on autopilot - and just one crumb is enough.
Looking for a place you know is OK? Here are some suggestions:
  • Locally, try Sherry Lynn's Gluten Free Cafe. She has a wide variety of items, and yes, non gluten free people are allowed to eat there too. :) As a bonus, she has a storefront with gluten free items. Some of them (think Chex) are cheaper at the grocery store, but she does have some items that are hard to find elsewhere.
  • Fifty South Diner in Ballston Spa is willing to accommodate a gluten free diet and has wonderful food.
  • If you are lucky enough to be in close proximity to an Original Pancake House, they serve gluten free pancakes at many locations!
Where are your favorite local breakfast joints, and what have your experiences been with breakfast out? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Menu Plan 2/6 - 2/12

All right, back to figuring out what to make for the week. It's been a while - I actually have planned out the last couple weeks, but due to an extremely busy January they didn't make it to the blog. Now that I'm settled in the routine of work, school and personal life, it should get a bit easier to write up menu plans. :)

Now - the big highlight for this menu plan is The SuperBowl. Obviously we're going to be enjoying ourselves quite a bit on Sunday as we watch the big game (I love that "enjoying ourselves" becomes a euphemism for "stuffing ourselves silly" for the SuperBowl!) and then hopefully trying to get back on track after the junk food hangover wears off.

We've had an awesome weekend so far - friends over on Friday evening to play Dance Central (which I would highly recommend - some of those advanced moves feel like a workout!), and a birthday dinner with friends planned for this evening. So Sunday we're hoping for a nice quiet SuperBowl at home (where we can pass out in a food coma in the 3rd quarter if we need to).

On Friday, I wanted to put out some easy munchies. We just had a low-key night and planned to have 10 people total including us. I had an hour between when I got home from work and when I expected people to be over, so I put out chips and dip, threw together a buffalo chicken dip, diced up veggies with hummus and veggie dip, put out shrimp cocktail that I'd prepared the evening before, scallops wrapped in bacon with a quick brown sugar dipping sauce, and made cherry-amaretto jello shots.

OK, I tend to go overboard on food. :)

So Here Goes:

SuperBowl Sunday: Obligatory junk day. We'll be making nachos for dinner - I'm planning corn tortilla chips, seasoned ground beef, refried beans, cheddar and monterey jack cheeses, black olives, jalapenos, iceberg lettuce and diced fresh tomatoes. Topped with guacamole, sour cream and salsa. To attempt to offset this mound of calorie goodness, I have a TON of cut up veggies (celery, broccoli, carrots, cucumber, grape tomatoes) that will get eaten one way or another, and shrimp cocktail leftover from Friday. That might be a decadent-but-sort-of-light lunch on Sunday, heavy on the veggies.

Monday: Class night. There will be a ton of leftovers from the weekend for my husband - I am always afraid of the lunch thief at my office stealing my dinner, so I may pick up sushisomething between work and class. If nothing else KIND bars and fruit usually do the trick, with a Venti coffee to ensure I'm up for the rest of the evening. :)

Tuesday: Cajun-stuffed peppers. I picked up orange bell peppers (I didn't like the look of the red ones available in my grocery store) and plan to fill them with rice, ground beef, monterey jack cheese, andouille sausage (I picked up Bilinski's Chicken Sausage for this, which I love because not only do they mark their label GF, but they're also local and organic.) and spices. I am using the recipe from America's Test Kitchen.

Wednesday: By request, my hubby's favorite pasta, modeled after Uno's Rattlesnake pasta. Bionaturae penne, shrimp (it was cheaper than chicken this week!), Classico alfredo, steamed broccoli, pickled jalapenos. Add cayenne and black pepper and sprinkle with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Yum!

Thursday: Hubby's bowling league/my homework night. Leftovers.

Friday: TGIF! No cooking for us! :)

Hope that everyone enjoys the SuperBowl! :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

GEGGF - Drinks

Author's note: This post is geared toward someone who doesn't really know that much about gluten or the gluten free diet, but wants to accommodate for someone gluten free (SGF). It's mostly written for people like me -- I try to be as accommodating a hostess as possible and try to make sure that everyone has something to eat and isn't going to be stuck on the toilet for the next three days. This series of posts is meant to be pretty tongue-in-cheek, and there are a ton of other great options -- these are just some suggestions for that gluten newbie out there.

To see previous posts on GEGGF, click here for the Introduction, or see my Superbowl party post and Valentine's Day post.

It's the weekend!!! Time to meet up with your friends, unwind with a couple of drinks, and have some fun! Let's face it, a big part of the social scene for late-20-somethings and early-30-somethings revolves around alcohol. (If you're a teenager reading this? Go away and come back to this blog entry when you're 21. And even then, trust me, most of the places listed in this post aren't going to be your scene).

And if you're reading this post, odds are you're either a friend of someone who recently got diagnosed with celiac and you're trying to figure out where to go with them. Or, you've got someone gluten free (SGF) in your life and you want to celebrate some milestone - (30th) birthday, engagement, bachelor/bachelorette party, promotion, whatever. You want to make sure that they have a blast.

First - the good news. Drinks are one of the easiest places to find for SGF. Almost any bar will do as long as SGF is flexible when it comes to what alcohol he or she will drink. My hubby -- he likes beer and Woodchuck, sure. But if we're meeting friends out at a place that doesn't carry either of those options, he'll either drink regular Pepsi and offer to be the DD, or drink a Captain and Coke. No big deal.

Second - the (sort of) bad news. It's almost impossible to find a bar with happy hour munchies that are safe. Almost all happy hour food is fried - and the stuff that isn't fried? Well, let's just put it this way. Do you really trust a whole bar full of drunks picking over a buffet to NOT contaminate the chips and salsa by double dipping or something even grosser?

Yeah, thought so.

That said. You eat gluten, sure. If you eat a breadstick, you're probably not going to think twice about it because you're not going to be sitting on the toilet later on. At least, not because of the gluten. But think about it. You're in a bar full of drunks. They're all scouring the buffet of happy hour munchies. Many men don't wash their hand after they use the bathroom. Just sayin'. SGF... really isn't missing much there.

SGF knows this, and will make arrangements to eat beforehand. Or stick a KIND bar in their purse or pocket for later. No big deal.

Still, this post is supposed to recommend places to go, so here are some of my favorite local recommendations:
  • Bomber's. We've gone to both Albany and Schenectady (I like the Schenectady one a bit better), and love it. I've written about them in the past, but here goes: They have amazing margaritas, Woodchuck on draft, and you can get food there! We've always had a great experience talking to the staff. They tend to be knowledgeable and willing to check with the kitchen if they don't know the answer to a question. Their wings are gluten free and made in a dedicated meat fryer. Their hard tacos are also safe as long as the filling isn't battered. I believe their nachos were OK too but we haven't ordered them yet. Ask when you go, though!
  • Wolff's Biergarten. They have a wonderful gluten free Belgian beer, Green's. It's bottled, but very very good. They also have a really cool ambiance, with picnic tables and baskets of peanuts (as long as you trust that whole communal, everyone's-hands-are-in-it thing... I'm a little better with the nuts since they're still in the shell). Not sure about the food, since the beer has always been our priority here.
  • Try the bar at Wheat Fields. Sure, it's a restaurant and not great for 30 of your friends, but it's a great place to bring a date. Their bar is nice, and their Saratoga menu includes steamed mussels while their Clifton Park menu offers polenta with veggies. Both locations offer caprese salad, one of my favorite bites ever. You can stay for dinner after drinks, or just do wine and dessert at the bar -- their ricotta cheesecake is amazing.
  • My hubby's favorite place to go for a low-key night hanging out is Diamond Eight Billiards in Latham. They have pool, darts, and a full bar. Plus, I successfully had his 30th Birthday Party catered there last year. Irene was wonderful and very accommodating.
Or, try:
  • The Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark Street. It's a small place that I haven't gotten around to trying yet, but I've heard you can arrange tastings and they'll work to accommodate your dietary needs. Their cheese plate alone makes my mouth water!
  • In the mood for something different? We have a vinery in our back yard! Altamond vineyard and winery produces local, NYS wine. They also do private parties, tastings, and tours.
  • Host a wine-tasting party at home. When we do this, we ask everyone to bring a bottle of wine (Last time, I set a $10 cap so no one spent too much more than anyone else -- I'd probably raise the cap to $20 next time) and put out a few munchies. Think cheese, grapes, other fresh fruit, and dark chocolate (for the red wine). Nothing too fancy. In fact, I think we need to do this again, soon... :)
What are your favorite bars in the area?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

GEGGF - Valentine's Day

Author's note: This post is geared toward someone who doesn't really know that much about gluten or the gluten free diet, but wants to accommodate for someone gluten free (SGF). It's mostly written for people like me -- I try to be as accommodating a hostess as possible and try to make sure that everyone has something to eat and isn't going to be stuck on the toilet for the next three days. This series of posts is meant to be pretty tongue-in-cheek, and there are a ton of other great options -- these are just some suggestions for that gluten newbie out there.

To see previous posts on GEGGF, click here for the Introduction, or see my Superbowl party post.

Now - A little disclaimer before I get started on the whole Valentine's Day thing. See, I'm not really that big of a fan. It's just unbelievably commercial, and well... what are the typical, stereotypical gifts?
  1. Flowers. Florists will sell red and pink flowers at a premium this time of year and in my experience they tend to die much more quickly. And personally, I despise carnations and can take or leave red roses. I'd just as soon save the money now and be surprised by a bunch of seasonal spring flowers in a few months - hyacinth, tulips, and daisies are much more interesting flowers. To each their own, I guess.
  2. Candy. Usually sub-par, overpriced chocolate in those garish red heart boxes. If you really must have a heart box, it's half price the next day -- but by that point, who cares? I'm much more excited about the (overpriced, but worth it) Easter candy that comes out that day.
  3. Restaurant dates. Crowded restaurants with overworked kitchens and servers, usually serving prix-fixe menus without a whole lot of customization allowed. Some of them are super-yummy, but still.
So, you want suggestions on which heart-shaped box is good to give? Sorry, you've come to the wrong place. However, hopefully some these suggestions will start you thinking about something that you can do with your SGF sweetheart. :)

It Doesn't Have to Be About Food
First off -- the easiest way to navigate Valentine's Day with SGF? Don't make it about food! (Yes, I know that's a sin for a food blog to say, but hey, it's the truth). For example... when my hubby and I were dating, I had just read Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella about five years later than everyone else in the world had read it. I loved it -- so instead of the flowers-and-candy thing he surprised me with a whole bunch of the sequels in paperback. Best. Gift. Ever. (At least for someone who likes to read as much as I do).

So, looking for something personal? I'm always a fan of experiences over activities for this sort of thing, so here are a couple of ideas for us stuck in the Northeast for winter:
  • Take advantage of the snow! Try skiing, cross-country skiing, sledding, snow shoeing, etc.
  • Dog Lovers? Take Fido to Capital Hills Golf Course, where dogs are allowed to go off-leash in the winter. (Be romantic and take care of bag duty for your sweetie).
  • Stay in and have movie night. Rent a couple of movies, and stock up on popcorn and candies. Our favorite gluten free treats include Jelly Belly jelly beans, Starburst, Skittles, and Tootsie Roll midgies. (You could also go to the movies, but a) there are tons of people there for Valentine's Day dates, and b) the studios like to put out vapid chick flicks this time of year. Sorry Hollywood, but I do have a brain).
But, Everyone Gets Hungry, Right?
Still, everyone's gotta eat, and that's why you're reading the blog. And trust me -- nothing kills the mood like the gastrointestinal distress of a glutened SGF. :(

So here are some suggestions:

Try: Cooking dinner in. That's what we'll be doing!

Add a bottle of bubbly (sparkling apple cider for those who don't drink) if you want to make an event out of it. Some ideas that are easy and impressive sounding?
  • Steak. Baked Potato. Green beans sauteed in olive oil and fresh garlic. All gluten free, just double check the rub you use for the steak and any low-fat sour cream. Also, if you're a fan of A-1 it's made by Kraft - unless it says "contains wheat" (or rye, barley or oats) it's safe.
  • Crab legs or Lobster Tail. Expensive, but if you steam them up they're naturally gluten free and you can get some pretty good deals for lobster around $6/lb sometimes. Serve with melted butter, and also works well with baked potato and steamed broccoli. See note above RE: low-fat sour cream.
  • Fondue. We're a fan of this on nights when we have four hours to kill for dinner. Heat up oil and broth in a cast iron fondue pot, and have plenty of mushrooms (I like both baby portabellas and white buttons), snow peas, broccoli, and any other veggies you want. You can also get shrimp or cut up chicken or flank steak, but I'll be honest, this meal is all about the mushrooms for me. My favorite dipping sauce is Frank's Sweet Chili sauce. The thing to watch out for here is broth - some of it contains wheat. I try to be safe and go with the organic broths that are marked gluten free.
  • Salmon. I like to sautee filets in a bit of olive oil and white wine with fresh garlic, flat-leaf parsley and Old Bay. Serve with steamed broccolini or asparagus and mashed red potatoes. (Tip: Add garlic salt to the mashed potatoes). Just double check that the spices don't contain gluten fillers.
  • For dessert: Try chocolate dipped strawberries. (This is the one V-day indulgence I get every year at Price Chopper). If your SGF isn't a chocolate fan? Try buying a big tub of Kozy Shack rice or tapioca pudding, scooping it out into decorative dishes, and topping with whipped cream. I won't tell that it's not homemade. :)

Or: Go out to eat.

Some local restaurant options:
  • New World Bar and Bistro. MAKE RESERVATIONS!!! They have a wonderful gluten free menu and they're one of my favorite places. Just don't be surprised if your SGF gets very excited and wants a burger or fried calamari po'boy with fries. That's a special treat for SGF.
  • 677 Prime or any of the other Angelo Mazzone restaurants. Speak to your server and the chef will be able to accommodate you.
  • Delmonico's. They have a gluten free menu with pasta choices on it. Whenever we go my husband requests veal parm, which isn't on the menu but they make for him anyway. It's absolutely delicious.
  • Wheat Fields in Saratoga or Clifton Park also has a gluten free menu. Of special note: save room for dessert! Their ricotta cheesecake is to die for.
  • In the mood for Mexican? El Loco has a gluten free menu.
  • How about Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, etc? It's pretty easy to eat at most of these places if you speak with the server about what's safe and what isn't. We've had good experiences at Bangkok Thai Bistro.
In the mood for a chain?
  • Carrabba's has a limited gluten free menu. Unfortunately they don't have gluten free bread or pasta.
  • Outback Steakhouse has a gluten free menu. When we eat there, we usually go to the Wolf Road one, and you can request a loaf of gluten free bread when you're seated.
  • PF Chang's has a gluten free menu.
  • Cheesecake Factory does not have a gluten free menu, but they do have knowledgeable managers who will come over to your table and discuss the menu with you. Unfortunately, if you read the comments on my blog entry for the Cheesecake Factory, there seems to be an ongoing debate RE: the safety of their desserts. It's probably best to avoid them to be on the safe side.
Is your favorite restaurant not listed? Please comment and let us know what your gluten free dining experience was like there!