Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Lemon Bars

I can't even pretend to be a baker! My partner Tina is the baker in this house. Even with the help of gluten, baking just isn't in my skill set. Besides, I am a savory person and would always prefer something savory over a sweet. That being said, I continue to try, especially when lemon is involved. I love tart, lemon and lime both. Today, my famous friend Shauna, AKA The Gluten-Free Girl posted a recipe for lemon bars. That was it, I was sold. I back tracked on her blog to find the recipe for Ahern All Purpose Flour. Lucky me, I had everything I needed to mix up a large jar. I trust Shauna and Danny and this is going to be my go to flour for any gluten-free baking! You can find the recipe on their blog, I have always had a scale, something Shauna and Danny insist on for measuring. However, my scale only weighted in increments of 5, not good enough. So a few weeks ago I purchased an inexpensive scale that is precise to a decimal. Now, I don't have enough experience baking to back up my own opinion here but I totally agree, you must weight your ingredients. I find all of the gluten-free flours and starches are impossible to measure in a measuring cup. I love having a scale for baking.

These lemon bars are to die for, no kidding. I was a bit reluctant about the spices in the crust, including ground cinnamon and ginger. I love a lemon bar with a traditional shortbread like crust. But hey, it's Christmas time, jazz it up a bit. My dough did seem a little wet, but it baked up just fine. I was more reluctant about the freshly grated ginger in the topping, but Shauna has always suggested following a recipe as it is written the first time around and then make adjustments. After a little encouragement, I included the ginger, I am glad I did. It adds a zing that simply empowers the pucker of the lemon and pops in your mouth. Oh goodness me they are darn darn good, company worthy for sure. The dough still seemed a bit wet in the end and maybe even a little under cooked. If I made these again I would back off on the water in the dough. Shauna gives a range of water to add 1-2 tablespoons and I started out adding all of the water, instead of adding small amounts at at time until I got the desired consistency. Oh well, just means I need to make them again. I would also probably bake the dough a little longer.

You can find the recipe at

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Grown up Mac 'N Cheese

Sometimes a girl just needs a little bit of comfort food. We never had Mac 'n Cheese growing up, at least I don't remember ever having it. If we did, it surely came from a box with some kind of magic packet of fluorescent yellow stuff, called cheese. This version is made with aged Cheddar and Gruyere cheeses and gluten-free Tinkyada spiral pasta. If Tina had her way, we would be eating this at least once a week. A time or two every fall/winter is enough for me. Oh don't get me wrong, I love it, but it isn't exactly healthy and packs more than a punch of calories. I guess if you wanted you could scale back and use skim milk and low fat cheese but then why bother at all. This is thick, creamy and comforting. Don't be put off by the tomatoes, they really add to the dish! It really is a special occasion dish and if your wallet can manage, add some lobster meat for an over the top meal.

kosher salt
Vegetable oil
1 pound Tinkyada pasta, elbow or spiral work nicely
1 quart whole milk (I confess, I use half cream, half milk)
8 ounces butter, divided
1/2 cup white rice flour
8 ounces aged Cave Gruyere Cheese, grated
12 ounces aged Cheddar, grated (I used four year)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes, sliced
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (I used Udi's)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the pasta and cook for about 13 minutes, drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a sauce pan, don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk, add nutmeg, salt and pepper. While whisking, add the hot milk slowly and cook until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the cheeses, stirring until they are melted and incorporated into the sauce. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. pour into a baking dish.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the bread crumbs and sprinkle on top of the tomatoes. Bake 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned.

You can easily make this ahead of time. Simply assemble the dish, cover with foil and put in the fridge. When your ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and put the covered dish in the oven for about an hour. Remove the foil and cook another 15 minutes until bubbly and browned.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Acorn Squash

I like to think I have an adventuresome palate, and I do, especially when it comes to unusual ethnic food. I am game for just about anything. For years I have put an entire category of food on my mundane, not so interested list. This included any kind of squash and sweet potatoes. I conquered sweet potatoes years ago when I discovered my preoccupation with Indian cuisine. But squash, well it has taken longer to enter that foray.

Every fall it is the same, I head to the grocery store, my list in hand, which includes items like, vegetable for dinner. I try hard not to over do the roasted vegetables, but they are so good. I sit and ponder in the produce section trying to conjure up an idea, something different. Inevitable I start looking at the squash. They are visually very appealing to me, so festive and colorful but I just can't get myself to go there. What on earth would I do with it and Tina just wouldn't enjoy it. We never had squash growing up, in fact we rarely had fresh produce at all. After all feeding a family of 8 was costly and time consuming. My mother relied on canned and frozen vegetable. I can honestly say the only time I ever get frozen vegetables is when I am in a real pinch for something like peas. This fall I find those squash just calling my name. So last week I gave it and got my first acorn squash. I quickly invited my friend Paula over for dinner, knowing she would appreciate what ever transpired.

I decided squash stuffed with wild rice would be perfect to pair with the rest of our dinner. It was so simple and so delicious that I know I will do this again and again. I simply cut the squash in half, lengthwise and removed the seeds. I put about a teaspoon of butter in each half, a scant tablespoon of brown sugar and a drizzle of my own honey and baked them, cut side up in a dish with about a half inch of water for an hour. When they were done, I stuffed them with wild rice that I gussied up with toasted pecans, dried cranberries and sauteed celery and onions and baked for another 15 minutes or so.

I could barely speak when I started eating it was so good. I can think of a million fillings and I can also imagine no filling at all. A whole new world has opened up for me. I won't be passing by those squash ever again. Next up some fun with Butternut!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Homemade Oreo Cookies, OMG

If your gluten-free an you don't know Shauna and Danny Ahern, well your missing out big time. I have been a fan of their blog, Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef for as long as I have been gluten-free. If you appreciate good story telling, excellent writing and are living gluten-free you have too many reason to check it out at

When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease I didn't even know what a blog was and quite frankly it took me awhile to actually understand how it a worked. Lucky me, I stumbled on Shauna's blog long before it became so hugely popular. I remember spending the better part of day going back and reading each and every post since the inception of her blog. I was riveted. I bought her first book as soon as it was published and I even flew to Chicago for a book signing. I felt a kindredness with Shauna, a connection through the gluten-free world that I guess we call the gluten-free community.

I am still enthralled with their new cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. I love the photographs, the tips, the approach to cooking and the recipes but honestly, I am die heart fan of the blog, mostly for the stories and every now and again for the recipes.

Recently Shauna and Danny posted about Oreo Cookies, including a recipe for making them gluten-free. Now I don't have a sweet tooth and would almost always prefer something savory but these cookies are incredible. I am already thinking of a million ways to actually use the chocolate cookies which are delicate and delicious. You can head over to their blog and get the recipe yourself. The dough is little fussy in that it stuck to my hands and every third cookie or so I had to wash my hands. I also made mine too big, when they suggest just a little more than a teaspoon, they mean just a little more than a teaspoon. All my teaspoons were in the dishwasher so I was trying to eyeball the volume and went too big. I also found my cookies did spread a bit while baking so do place them at least an inch or more apart. My stuffing also seemed a bit stiff, not exactly sure what that was about but they were tasty none the less. More importantly, I am looking forward to using the chocolate cookies to make a cheesecake crust, pie crust and crushed over ice cream.

If nothing else it was shear fun making these Oreo's!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cooking Pizza with Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

I love pizza and I have to admit, since going gluten-free I have fared well when it comes to pizza. My wonderful wife has made it her part time job to make sure pizza is still a part of my life. She has tried a number of crusts recipes, nothing worth mentioning and we finally settled on store bought crust from either Udi's or Whole Foods. While they are not bad, not bad at all, they are a far cry from that traditional chewy crust with crisp toasted edges. When Shauna and Danny Ahern published their new cookbook, I was first in line to get mine, knowing full well there was a recipe for pizza crust. I was eager to give it a go. At first, there was some confusion when I couldn't find the recipe until I realized it was disguised as crackers. Then, disappointment, the ingredients included yeast. As accomplished as I am in the kitchen, yeast continues to intimidate me and I simply don't give recipes with yeast a second glance. However, my wife, is the far more capable baker in our house and she would do anything for me. So, I gathered the ingredients, which took some effort including stops at three different places to get all the flours I needed.

Beware people, while Bob's Red Mill has recently changed their manufacturing practices to make gluten free corn grains, some of the old product is still out on shelves. Take care to make sure the corn flour and the corn meal both have the gluten-free label.

This past Saturday I came home from work without a dinner plan. Well, secretly I guess I had a plan as I had gotten everything I needed for Tina to make Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef's pizza crust. She was game. While I ran to the store to get everything else to top the pizza Tina made the crust. Shauna and Danny suggest using parchment paper in the book, when rolling out the dough. We found the dough to be quite sticky, slightly wet, and hard to remove from the parchment. Plastic wrap worked much better, which is what they suggest in their pizza crust video on their website,, We also found it helpful to dust the counter and the dough with the corn meal before trying to work the dough. We divided our dough in half, using half for a pizza and the other half for the original cracker recipe.

After rolling out the dough for the pizza and getting it on our pizza pan we put it in the oven on a stone and baked it for about 15 minutes, it bubbled up in spots but didn't turn brown at all. Then we topped the pizza and put it back in the oven and cooked it another 20 minutes or so, until the edges of the crust started turning brown. We kept the oven at 500 degrees as directed, but it still took 20 minutes before the edges turned brown. The pizza crust was out of this world, worth all the effort! Crisp crust, kinda chewy and not too corny tasting. I was worried with all the corn flour and corn meal I used for dusting that it might over power the crust. It was perfect to say the least and as long as Tina is will, this will be our go to crust from now on. Danny and Shauna have hit the perfect combination of flours to turn out a perfect crust, company worthy!

The crackers, well, they just didn't seem to crisp up very well and turned out more like a flat bread, a very good flat bread at that! I loved the salt and rosemary seasoning and couldn't stop eating it, even after three pieces of pizza. But even after cooking it much longer than suggested it just didn't crisp up enough to break into shards as described in the recipe. The pizza held up very well over time. I reheated the left overs on a pizza stone a few days later and it was just as good as the having it the same day. I also froze a piece that reheated really well. The "flat bread" didn't hold up at all and was quite stale and chewy the next day.

If you are gluten-free, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef is a must have cookbook, it is full of well tested recipes and tips for living gluten-free. I give it five stars and am going to work my way through each and every recipe, just like Julie and Julia.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sweet Potatoes or Yams? You tell me.

This was to be a post about making Pumpkin Soup with Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. But I got side tracked. The recipe called for a sweet potato. I always get confused because anytime a recipe calls for a sweet potato and there is a photo accompanying the recipe, it is always a Yam. So really people what is the difference? I guess in reality we don't actually have Yam's here is the U.S. so both the orange flesh and white fleshed tubers are sweet potatoes. Since I was unsure, I got one of each and used half of each in the soup. As fate would have it, I didn't like the soup. I like pumpkin alright, pie, cake, bread . . . but the soup just didn't win me over. I pulled out all the stops, an organic pie pumpkin and homemade chicken stock, hoping for an over the top sort of outcome.

If it weren't for the left over yam and sweet potato halves I would have felt sorry for myself, having spent all that time and effort for nothing. Well not exactly nothing, after all I did find some friends to enjoy the soup. I know the soup was good, very good for that matter, it just wasn't a taste that appealed to me so I was happy to deliver it to friends. I am not exactly a fan of sweet potato or yams either but I do have a thing about waste so I decided to make sweet potato fries, oven roasted.

If you have been following my gluten-free tales you know I am a sucker for french fries and will go to the end of the earth to find safely fried french fries. Most restaurants fry their fries in a fryer that also fries breaded foods, thus contaminating what would otherwise be gluten-free. So sad! It is mighty hard to find french fries that have been fried in a dedicated frier.

I cut the tubers, drizzled them in olive oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt and pepper and then oven roasted them at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning once. They were gone in the blink of an eye and another yam and sweet potato have already been purchased for round two, this evening. When I get onto something, I get onto it. I will probably be having these for days to come. I don't care if I ever have french fries again. These are to die for!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Apple Tart

I am a big fan of Shauna and Danny Ahern, AKA Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. I started following Shauna's blog the day after I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I think I was drawn in by a mutual disposition of looking to what could be eaten rather than using deprivation as a framework. I have always gone to a place of what I can have rather than what is off limits.

When my copy of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef arrived I read it through cover to cover, twice over. I didn't want to miss anything, although I must admit the oh so controversial swear words didn't not jump out at me, during either reading. Honestly, there wasn't much here I didn't already know in terms of cooking and cooking well, but my own cooking practices were readily affirmed. I believe in cooking in season, I use good ingredients, I do weigh my flours, my approach to cooking is organized, anticipated, rehearsed. And I do screw up, all the time. I have forgotten key ingredients in a dish, forgotten to reduce or double a particular ingredient when cutting a recipe in half or doubling it. I have a plethora kitchen disaster stories. but, for the most part, I am successful and capable in the kitchen.

So in the spirit of cooking in season I set out to make an Apple Tart using the Asian Pear Tart recipe from my new cookbook. One of the request that Shauna and Danny make in the book is that the recipes be made exactly as written, at least once. I appreciate that advice and made the Asian Pear Tart. It was beautiful and it was awful, all at the same time. 100% my fault, my Asian pears were not ripe and I cut them to big. In addition, I don't actually like pears so I didn't have high hopes. What did turn out really really well was the tart crust! Fine, I did what I was told, now onto making an adaptation using the quintessential fall fruit, apples!

If you want the recipe for this crust your going to have to get the book. Let me just say this, the crust is flaky and easy to work with. It does make more than you will probably need. In fact, I was able to make a 9 inch tart shell and a mini free form crostata which was even better than the tart. It is also a very versatile recipe and could be used for a sweet or savory tart. After making the tart I simply cut my apples slightly less than a quarter inch and sprinkled them with some sugar, cinnamon and allspice. I covered the bottom of the tart with an apple compote I had on hand and put the apples on top in concentric circles and baked the tart. When it was time to serve I top each piece with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with homemade caramel sauce. It was a perfect fall desert.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Soup Night and Chicken Stock

We have a fall tradition around here that has been going on for 9 years now. Every fall, we open our kitchen for Soup Night. It started nine years ago, a weekly gathering, as a way to stay connected to our friends and family. Not much has changed over the years except last year we went from weekly gatherings to monthly gatherings. People get busy and it seemed once a month was enough for everyone.

I always make two kinds of gluten-free soup, a vegan or vegetarian friendly soup and usually a meat or fish based soup. We invite anyone who wants to join us for an open house style evening, the first Tuesday of each month. Friends, friends of friends, family and strangers, all are welcome. Generally about 20 people show up to enjoy soup, bread and chocolate chip cookies. It is simple, nothing fancy, plastic spoons, paper plates and napkins.

I have collected soup recipes over the years, even putting together a self published collection of my soups to celebrate our fifth year, souvenirs for our followers. Of course I enjoy trying new recipes but it seems everyone has their favorites and I get the same requests over and over, Spinach Curry, Black Bean, Cheddar Corn Chowder are among the most popular. I cut some corners, usually using a base for broth but recently I have been hoarding chicken carcasses and vegetable peelings and cuttings from celery, onions, carrots and parsley. Today I had enough to make homemade stock. I can't actually say I appreciate the difference in quality, I am not sure my palate is discerning enough for that but I am thrifty and I do like using every morsel of food possible. So the idea of saving bones and bits and pieces of what would otherwise be wasted vegetables really appeals to me! I am so enamored by this that ideally I would like to save 6 months worth of waste, make stock and then can it. It is time consuming however, at least three quarters of day to put up stock.

I started with bones from three chickens that I had frozen and a large bag of large chopped pieces of carrots, celery, onions and parsley. No specific measurements here. I put all of this into a large roasting pan and roasted everything at 400 degrees for two hours. I transfered the roasted bones and vegetables to a large stock pot and added enough cold water to cover and heated the stock to just below a boil, about 190 -200 degrees and let is simmer for 6 hours. I did not stir, I did not add salt or pepper and I did not let it boil! I waited and I waited, watching the stock reduce and turn a rich rich golden color. After straining the stock it went into the fridge where it will sit overnight and in the morning I will skim the solidified fat off the stock and then freeze it. This is my third time making chicken stock and I am hoping for a very thick, gelatinous stock full of cartilage-building proteins! If all goes well, and I expect it will, I will have a wonderful stock for my famous Cheddar Corn Chowder which I am making for the season opener of soup night next Tuesday. Cheddar Corn Chowder is also Tina's favorite soup! It is a great early fall classic when sweet corn is at its peak!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrating Sukkot

We have been invited to celebrate Sukkot! Twice over! I didn’t come by the invitations honestly, I bribed, on facebook, with gifts. I am sure the invitations had nothing to do with my bribe, but I wanted to be sure we would have a place in a Sukkah. Tina and I are lucky; wonderful friends surround us! We are blessed with a culturally diverse group of friends that bring tremendous ritual into our lives. Our friends Mara and Miryam have taken us into their circle of feisty, smart, observant lesbian Jews, sharing one Jewish holiday after another with us. Sukkot is one of the more festive holidays! If you know me, you know I love fall, I love the season of harvesting, and putting food by, canning and preserving the season, the cooler weather, and bonfires . . . the list is endless. So the idea of a holiday that celebrates the fall, that has its roots in agriculture, a thanksgiving of sorts, pleases me to no end.

I am riveted by the Jewish faith, especially the rituals that surround the holidays. We were invited to our first Passover this past year. I studied for days before hand so I could follow the prayers and understand the symbols and even offer some ideas of my own about the Seder plate. I found a kosher wine expert in Illinois and arrived with two really nice bottles of kosher for Passover wine for our hosts and a bottle of kosher grape juice for myself. I didn’t want to be left out of any part of the evening. So of course I am preparing for my first Sukkot during which I will be invited to spend an evening in a sukkah.

During the seven days of Sukkot, Jewish households leave their solid dwellings and spend time in porous, fragile huts, a physical reminder of their vulnerability and dependence on God for gifts of shelter, food, warmth and protections. The sukkah’s religious function is to commemorate the temporary structures that the Israelites dwelled in during their exodus from Egypt, but it is also about the universal ideas of transience and permanence as expressed in archatecture. The sukkah is a means of ceremonially practicing homelessness, while at the same time remaining deeply rooted. It calls on us to acknowledge the changing of the seasons, to reconnect with an agricultural past and to take a moment to dwell on and dwell in impermanence. Most Jews, who put up a Sukkah, will spend as much time as possible in the temporary dwelling, taking their meals and even sleeping in the Sukkah if they choose.

In celebration of the holiday, in keeping with the spirit of harvesting and thanksgiving I have put together gifts of my own harvest for my hosts, tomatoes that I have canned, roasted and stewed, fire roasted red peppers, homemade applesauce, fig chutney and Tina’s famous caramel sauce. I am looking forward to spending Thursday morning at a local synagogue, participating in the prayers and service of the first day of Sukkot and then spending the second evening with our friends Mara and Miryam having dinner in their sukkah. Later next week, toward the end of the seven-day holiday we will spend another evening celebrating with our friends Sam and Darla. It is pure joy for me to participate in these intimate, spiritual and family gatherings and celebrations.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lemongrass Paste, Tempeh and Tofu

There is something oh so comforting about a life long friend, they fit like a favorite pair of old shoes and you never want to give them up. That's how I feel about my friend Helen, one of my oldest and most treasured friends. She and her partner moved away about four years ago and while I don't like the physical distance one bit, our friendship has more than sustained the distance. We have know each other since grade school, struggled with some of life's most difficult challenges together, like the death of our mother's which occurred within 6 months of each other, coming out and a few other remarkable events. When Helen and her partner come into town I pull out all the stops, no matter how busy. Helen is a vegan, Sarah does not eat sugar, I am gluten free and Tina, well Tina is a meat and potato kind of gal. Needless to say, I have my hands full to meet all of our needs but I love the planning, the challenge and most of all visiting over a great meal.

My foray into tofu continues and this time I experimented with some tempeh. The menu included kabobs marinated in lemongrass paste, including tofu, tempeh and beef, grilled bok Choy with a peanut sauce, grilled polenta with sweet red pepper and onion wedges and Tina made Apple Crisp that we all could enjoy! It was festive, colorful and tasty.

Lemongrass paste is a wonderful paste for grilling, adding an asian flair to meats, tofu or tempeh. It works on just about anything lamb, shrimp, pork, beef and of course tofu or tempeh. I smeared the lemongrass paste over everything that was going on my kabob skewers, vegetables included, the night before grilling. I especially wanted the tofu to have a chance to absorb the paste.

Lemongrass Paste

2 stalks lemongrass (I use 4)
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

Cut off and discard the dried grasslike top half of the lemongrass. Trim the base of the bulb and then remove and discard the tough outer leaves. Using only the white and light green parts, cut in half lengthwise, and then cut crosswise to mince finely.

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients. I use an emulsion blender. Use immediately, or transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for three days or freeze for 2 months. Smear paste on what ever you want to grill, let it sit for a few hours or overnight and then grill.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Honey Harvest

We are just a little bit excited around here! Last week my beekeeping partner and I harvested three frames of honey from our bee hive. We should not have taken so much honey, it was a greedy gesture but we could not help ourselves. You see, we have a very strong colony with a prolific Queen. There is a tremendous amount of growth in the colony but not much honey. We are hoping to overwinter the bees which means we should have left the honey for the bees. Hopefully in the next month or so there will be enough foraging that the bees will store more honey for the winter. Regardless overwintering is tricky and even with enough honey the bees might not survive.

We have learned a great deal over the course of the summer, starting with two hives. We stood by and watched the complete collapse of one hive that was queen-less from the start. It was an emotional struggle with a high learning curve. I felt like an irresponsible beekeeper that could have and should have intervened sooner. I should have listened to my mentor who recognized the signs within days. Instead I consulted an array of beekeepers, all experts with great knowledge and experience. Torn between who to listen to we did not take any action and hoped for the best. Meanwhile our second hive thrived and delighted us with each visit. We had a few bumps in the journey, a period of time in which we though we had lost the Queen but this time we acted on the advice and generosity of my mentor and the colony has multiplied and multiplied.

So last Monday Paula and I removed three frames of honey and brought them home to harvest some honey. We were overwhelmed with excitement and energy. Neither of us had any idea what we were doing, having never harvested honey before. We removed the wax casings from the frame and let the honey drip into a large container. A few days later we strained the honey, three times through three different size strainers. I wanted pristine honey that would glimmer in the jar. We no sooner got started straining when we became completely preoccupied with dipping fingers and licking honey from our hands. We stopped abruptly and proceeded to toast slice after slice of bread and lathered the honey on the toast. Even Tina got in on the fun. In the end we had about two gallons of honey, enough to fill about 50 four ounce jars.

I am not a huge fan of honey. In fact, I don't really use honey much at all. I didn't come to this hobby with the longing of a harvest. Getting honey was always the second story for me. However, I am beyond delighted to hand out my little jars of honey to family and friends who have followed our journey. Most of my honey has gone to my Tibetan friends who regard the honey as medicine. My friend Pema took a jar to a local monastery of Buddhist Monks who are blessing the honey. I also recently learned that honey is a traditional part of the Jewish new year celebration so I am doling out jars to all my Jewish friends for Rosh Hashanah. Nothing gives me more pleasure than giving away the harvest. Of course I saved a jar for myself.

My original hope was that somehow I would be tamed and tempered by the bees. I long for something that will quiet me down, slow me in a way that I will become more deliberate and mindful. While I am still convinced that bee keeping can lead to this end, it was an utter failure this summer. I brought way to much stress and worry about my work life to the bee yard which is exactly what I was hoping to temper. I won't beat myself up over this, it was an unusual spring and summer with ongoing worry about contract negotiations and striking at work. My worries about work are far from over and the bee keeping season is winding down so any opportunity to be quieted will have to wait for next summer. Regardless I remain hopeful that next season will bring a new opportunity for this lofty goal. In the meantime Paula and I are committed to another year! I also wanted to give back to the planet in some small way and to that end our landowner tells us he has the best, most robust vegetable garden he has ever had and attributes that to the bees. So in the end we provided some pollinating serves to a generous land owner which is very satisfying.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Salsa Boy Helps Open the Canning Season

Our nephew Chase is a connoisseur of sorts. This guy knows salsa. He tells me he can go through a jar of store bought salsa in a day or two. Chips and salsa are his go to food. Last week he and Tina made fresh pico de gallo. I watched. They chopped tomatoes, red onion, garlic, cilantro, and jalapeño. And then they ate, all of it, save a bite or two for Chase to take home.

This got me thinking, Chase might like to can salsa. While I am an avid seasoned canner, I have never canned salsa before. It wasn't so much the canning that had me stumped, it was a recipe. I had enjoyed the best salsa ever from my friend Heidi. Lucky me, she was more than willing to share her recipe.

Now Chase is a good worker and he was excited about the idea but I decided to do a fair amount of prepping prior to his arrival. I peeled and seeded 12 pounds of Roma tomatoes, diced 6 onions, four multi-colored peppers and all the jalapeño peppers prior to his arrival. He still had to help dice the tomatoes, and chop the parsley and cilantro once he arrived.

This was a kitchen adventure to be sure and Chase is leaving with 11 pints of fresh homemade salsa he made and canned himself. He would be leaving with 12 pints but we have already polished off a jar.

Heidi's Salsa with influences from Chase!

10 pounds Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (we used 12)
2 cans of tomato paste to thicken at the end
6 large onions, diced
7 jalapeños minced
16 bulbs of garlic, more if you like
2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 cups of white vinegar
2-3 tablespoons sugar
4 multi-colored peppers, green yellow, red, orange
one bunch each of chopped parsley and cilantro
ground red pepper and cumin to taste

Combine everything in a large pot and bring to a boil, simmer for about 45 minutes then add the tomato paste to thicken, continue to simmer another 15 minutes or so. Pack into pint sized jars and process for 15 minutes in a water bath canner.

Tips: I peeled and seeded the tomatoes the day before we made the salsa and kept them in a strainer in the fridge over night with a plate and a heavy heavy container on top to promote draining as much liquid out of the tomatoes as possible. Wear gloves when working with the jalapeño peppers.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It is all about good ingredients!

I don't remember who told me that good ingredients make the dish but it is true, it just is. I spend a great deal of my disposable income on food. I can attest to the fact that if you get a high quality ingredient you might pay a little more but your going to get a better result in the end. So this vegan cheese, Daiya Mozzarella style shreds, is genius. I have tried other vegan cheese, they just disappoint. But is different. You can get the Mozarella or cheddar product (think vegan nachos). I first read about Daiya over at Katrina's blog, . If you have not checked out this gluten-free blogger you must!

I started to google Daiya cheese and read review after review about how great this stuff was, melted like ordinary dairy cheese, tasted great, and free of all the major allergens. I am a skeptic so I had to try it. We invited our friends Paula and Andrea over for pizza. Andrea recently went gluten-free, dairy free and soy free so she would be the perfect judge. The challenge was on to find a crust. Score, on my first thought, Udi's pizza crust fit the criteria. Udi's gluten-free bread is the only bread worth eating so I figured the crust would good too. This isn't post about Udi's but good grief if your gluten free and have not tried Udi's bread you simply must! Imagine, gluten-free bread you don't need to toast.

We made two pizza's a spinach and mushroom pizza and another pizza with a variety of roasted peppers. Both were very very good. I followed Daiya's instructions, using 4 ounces of cheese for a 10 inch pizza. Next time I might back off on the volume just a little. But the cheese was really spectacular, it melted, it stretched, it oozed, it tasted great! I was thrilled. As for Udi's crust, not so much, I have had better. In all fairness to Udi's I did forget to bake the crust for a few minutes before topping it which is an extra step I usually take when making gluten-free pizza. I just find the crust cooks better and gets a little crispier.

Daiya cheese is a winner and a product I would recommend without hesitation, even after just one experience. Next up vegan nacho's with the cheddar! Helen, when are you coming?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Lesbian That Doesn't Eat Tofu, How is That Possible?

I may have had a bite or two here and there but essentially I haven't ever really had tofu. I know it is the food of my people, so how is that possible. I could list a million reason but the truth is, I find tofu uninspiring, boring and of an odd texture. It sort of grosses me out. This past Wednesday I was invited to our friends Mara and Miryam's for dinner. I love these two people and spending time with them is one of my most favorite things to do. When they asked if I liked tofu I had to admit I had really never had it, other than a bite off of a plate of a friend who had ordered tofu. "A lesbian that has never had tofu, how is that possible" they both asked. So in the spirit of changing that I said I would love to try it. I will admit I was apprehensive about my tofu debut. Miryam made grilled tofu kabobs and I enjoyed them, I enjoyed them quite a bit, so much so that I agreed to take a kabob home which I divided up into salads I made for myself for my work weekend. Yes, I even like the cold tofu. So, I took the adventure one step further when Tina invited our 15 year old niece, recently gone vegetarian for dinner. Informed of this invitation at nearly 9:30 last night I did a quick internet study, I needed extra firm tofu and I needed it then. I sent Tina off to the store so I could continue my study. Following what seemed to be very good directions I drained the tofu, placed it on a plate and put our cast iron skillet on top. 30 minutes later, nearly a cup of liquid had oozed from this weird mass. I cut it into cubes and marinated it in traditional BBQ sauce, GF of course. 16 hours later the cubes were swelling and I threaded them on to skewers with onions, mushrooms, and peppers and then grilled them. They were stunning and according to Taylor, who surely knows a great deal more about tofu than I do, they were very tasty and the best tofu she had ever had. I liked them as well.

But, I have to admit the highlight of the dinner was a gluten free curried couscous. That's right gluten free couscous. I first read about this product over at Gluten Free Girl and was immediately intrigued. It is a corn and rice based product made by Bacchini. I love couscous and it is one of those things I do miss a great deal. I am not really a fan of quinoa which is considered a top choice gluten free substitute for couscous. You can imagine my delight when I learned about this product. The down side of course is that it is impossible to find and I had to order it from a spot in Seattle. This is a menu I will repeat, grilled tofu and couscous.

Gluten Free Curried Couscous

1 1/2 cups Bacchini gluten free CousCous
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups boiled water
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup minced parsley
3/4 cup dried cranberry, or any dried fruit you like
1 cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted
1 bunch scallions, sliced, white and green parts
1/2 cup diced red onion

Place couscous in a medium container with a tight fitting lid. Melt the butter in the boiling water and pour over the couscous. Cover tightly and allow the couscous to soak for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork. Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, curry, turmeric, salt and pepper. Pour over the fluffed couscous and mix well. Add the carrots, parsley, dried fruit, almonds, scallions and red onion, mix well. Serve at room temp. Of course you can vary the additions to anything you like!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Raw Lunch at Ecopolitan

I have been gluten free for four years now, no big deal. I manage quite well. Could I be a vegetarian? Easily, but I really do like meat. Could I be a vegan, sure, but it would be hard, especially gluten free. Could I adhere to a raw food diet? Probably not, but I sure liked my introduction at Ecopolitan, a raw food restaurant that is 100% organic, vegan, gluten free and raw. ( The good news is that I have a very adventuresome palate and enjoy eating new foods. So my visit to Ecopolitan was a blast and I will return.

I just don't think I have the where-with-all to master raw cooking but I am intrigued beyond measure and was sorry that Ecopolitan did not have a cookbook. I am also intrigued enough that I would consider taking a raw food class at my local co-op (Tina I promise this won't get out of hand). I don't know anything about raw cooking but the food I had today was wonderful and after a simple google search I learned there are all kinds of merits to a raw food diet. If I was Oprah and had someone cooking for me day in and day out, I might give it a whirl for a while. In the mean time I am going to visit Ecopolitan as often as I can.

I went to Ecopolitan with my good friend Kathy who is equally as adventuresome at the table as I am. We are a good pair when it comes to eating out. We both enjoyed a carrot gazpacho to start which was simply wonderful, bursting with flavor. I had the Falafel Wrap which was a collard leaf wrap with hummus, falafel, cucumber, tomato, olives, sprouts and tahini-garlic dressing. I am so going to make my next wrap with a collard leaf, sturdy, crisp and tasty. Kathy had a Flaxseed Tostada, lentil taco meat, greens, marinated mushroom, onion, olives, cilantro, cashew "sour cream," and hot sauce served atop a flaxseed-sunflower shell. Chances are I will be back tomorrow. Since Tina is out of town I am going to indulge!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Summer that Just Got Underway!

It has been a long, arduous 6 months around here. I have done very little other than gain some unwanted weight from mindless, unhealthy stress eating. I belong to the Minnesota Nurses Association, a professional union that represents over 12,000 nurses at 6 hospital systems in the Twin Cities. Every three years we negotiate our contract. In my tenure at Children's Hospital I have gone through probably 10 negotiations, most of them were unremarkable in nature. Oh there was a close call in 2001 and one hospital system did in fact go out on strike but for the most part we have worked through these negotiations fairly, professionally and ethically. This year was different, this year our employers chose a road of union busting tactics that were scary, hurtful and have forever changed the relationship with the 12,000 nurses in the Twin Cities. I was very close to the negotiations, I had a front row seat and witnessed some really difficult exchanges. I watched my employer lie. I watched the media spin a story that simply didn't reflect the facts. I was interviewed on several occasions by members of the media and failed to learn exactly how they distort words. I went out on a one day strike, I was emotionally and financially prepared for a four month strike. I was consumed and preoccupied for 6 months. I don't want to belabor this issue, it is behind me, not without some serious scars but I want to move forward. I want my summer to start, I want to spend time at the bee yard, I want to enjoy my early morning walks and I want to stop eating potato chips.

Fortunately for me our annual summer trip to Naples, Florida was schedule a week after we settled our contract so I had an opportunity for a transition, a week physically away from here and a week to clear my mind. It was just the tonic I needed, the perfect reset button. Every summer we invite our nieces to spend the week with us at the Naples, Ritz. I Can't say enough about off season travel which is the only reason we can afford this week. Only Katie was able to join us this year and we had a blast. We gave Katie scuba certification for a Christmas gift so she would be able to go scuba diving with Tina. The two of them spent a day in Key Largo diving, even saw a nurse shark, a highlight for Tina. They also went parasaling together, more shark sightings. We even spent an afternoon at the new Naples water park. I think it was the slides at the water park that finally knocked the negotiation stuff out of my head, making room for my summer to start!

So here it is almost August and it finally feels like summer has started. I am hoping to make the most of the dog days left. My bees are good, maybe without a queen but I am hoping to manage that issue later today with my gracious mentor who is helping me. We are having company for dinner on Monday so I am planning a fun, gluten free menu that includes passion fruit smoothies. The MN State Fair is less than a month away which means gluten free french fries. And of course canning season is almost here. Tina is headed to my brothers cabin for the weekend, leaving me behind to work, unless of course I decide to call in sick and join her. A year ago I would not have been capable of that but sadly, my work ethic was certainly a casualty of these negotiations, something that will take more than a week to restore and recover.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Novice, the Mentor and The Bees

Nearly a year ago I was reacquainted with a high school friend who had taken up beekeeping. I had a visceral desire to keep bees but lacked the where-with-all to empower myself to take up beekeeping. Suddenly the world had possibility and Kathy agreed to mentor me. I didn't realize that one of the most important lessons of this endeavor was underway. I come to the beekeeping with lofty hopes, hopes to be tamed, with the idea that somehow the art of beekeeping and the bees will empower me to be more mindful, more deliberate, more contemplative and allow me to slow down. My work life is intense, managing critically ill children in the hospital. I am the person families turn to in their most intimate and vulnerable moments. While I love my work it spends me in a way I can articulate. I am also exceptionally good at what I do, an expert and the mentor. It has been a very long time since I was the novice. The lesson of the novice have gotten lost in my life. This past year, I have been in the throws of that lesson, humbled by the simplicity of learning how to ask for help and navigate this journey with others. None of my usual tactics worked to avoid having to ask for help. Three comprehensive beekeeping classes, reading book after book, and still, I needed help. I say all the time, no question is without merit but still, it is hard for me to ask. You see I don't like to appear as though I have not done my homework or am unprepared. But this beekeeping business, well it is beyond academics, it is all learning in the field and not fit for a solo journey. In order to master this I have to ask questions and I have to have help. It is not easy to ask someone to take three hours out of their day to join me at my apiary , to help me with my hive inspections, to point out the difference between the workers and the drones. I am overwhelmed with the graciousness of my mentor, not just for the time and the assistance but for the process of this lesson, for helping me understand that it is also a gift to be the mentor.

The bees, they are lessons in themselves. We have two colonies, a hive of Italian honey bees and a hive of Carniolan honey bees. The Italian honey bees are thriving, building comb, full of brood, bringing in nectar and pollen, doing exactly what they should be doing. I get very jazzed up when I open the hive and see the wonder of collective work unfolding in front of me, revealing another lesson I hope to learn about, collaboration.

The Carniolan hive, well that is a different story and perhaps we will learn more about beekeeping from this hive and it's struggles than the Italian hive will teach us. It is difficult to know exactly what is going on with these bees. They have struggled from the get go. When we picked up the packages there were a fair amount of dead bees in the bottom of the Carniolan package, way way more than the Italian package. In retrospect I wish I had noticed this at the pick up and requested a different package. We had trouble getting our Queen in this hive and we are having trouble determining if she is there or not, or if maybe the hive has already requeened itself, all very complicated issues. We have had good but different input about what to do about the hive. Opinions vary. I have struggled with making decision about how to manage the hive. I want to be a responsible beekeeper and do what ever I can to help manage the hive. I want to make good, informed decisions. I think I have finally settled on an approach that is comfortable for me. Last evening during my field beekeeping class at the U of M the professor, Dr. Marla Spivak, a bee geek to be sure, made the following statement, "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything. The bees have a remarkable way of sorting themselves out and can make themselves right. Just let them be, they will figure things out." Another lesson since I like to meddle!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

For my friend Colleen

As promised those T.V. dinner recipes are going eventually make it here. This recipe for Halibut Fillets with a Coconut Milk-Mustard Seed Sauce is out of this world. The delicate but rich sauce is perfect for smothering firm-fleshed halibut fillets, especially served with rice to mop up all the sauce. Of course you could use any firm-fleshed fish to pair with the succulent sauce. While Indian food is somewhat labor intensive I find doing some of the work ahead of time is a great way to break up the work. You can easily make the curry for this dish ahead of time and then simply throw the dish together at the last minute! I served this recently to my life long friend Colleen and her son Wil who came to visit a few weeks ago. I have known Colleen since I was about four years old. We lived across the street from each other for years and went to school together from kindergarten until 12th grade. There simply isn't anything like someone who has know you and your family for that amount of time. In some ways Colleen knows me better than I know myself. I am grateful to have a life long friend and I am simply crazy about her son Wil, a delightful young man who just puts a big smile on my face. So Colleen, this post is for you!

Halibut Fillets with A Coconut Milk-Mustard Curry Sauce
Adapted from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer

1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 1/2 pounds skinless pieces of halibut fillet (2-3 inches thick)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds (I used black)
1 tablespoon skinned split black lentils (cream-colored in this form, also called urad dal)
1 cut finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (I tried to just use the solid milk from a large can)
2 teaspoons sambhar masala (see below)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 fresh curry leaves (I did not have these on hand and simply used more cilantro)
1 large tomato, cored and finely chopped

Dust halibut on both sides evenly with turmeric, pressing into the flesh. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in small sauce pan over medium high heat, add the mustard seeds, cover and cook until the seeds stop popping, about a minute. Add the lentils and stir-fry until they turn golden brown, 30-60 minutes or longer, don't burn! Add onion and cook 5-7 minutes. Add the coconut milk, cilantro, masala, salt and curry leaves if you have them. The coconut milk should start to boil at which point you will lower the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato and cook just until warmed through but tomatoes remain firm, about 2 minutes.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a medium size skillet over medium heat. Add halibut fillets and sear until light brown on each side, 2-3 minutes per side. Pour the curry sauce over the fillets , scrapping the bottom of the skillet to release any bits of fish and incorporate them into the sauce. Cover the pan and poach the fish, basting frequently with the sauce, until the fillets are barely starting to flake, 6-8 minutes. Serve.

Sambhar Masala

1/2 cup firmly packed medium size fresh curry leaves (You will need to find and Indian grocery store to supply these!)
1/2 cup dried red Thai or cayenne chilies, stems removed
1/4 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon black or yellow mustard seeds (I use black)
1 tablespoon white poppy seeds
2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long, broken into smaller pieced
1 tablespoon unrefined sesame oil or canola oil

Combine all the spices in a medium-size bowl, drizzle the oil over them and toss, coating the spices evenly.

Preheat a medium-size skilled over medium-high heat. Add the mixture and roast, stirring until the curry leaves curl up and appear dry and brittle, the chilies blackened slightly, the split peas turn dark brown, the coriander, cumin and fenugreek turn reddish brown, the mustard seeds pop, swell up and look ash-black, and bobby seeds are tan, 3-4 minutes.

Immediately transfer the pungent, nutty-smelling spices to a plate to cool! Don't let them sit in the pan, they will continue to cook and take on a bitter taste. Once cool grind the spice mixture in a spice grinder in batches until it resembles that of finely ground pepper. If the spices are completely cool they will acquire unwanted moisture from the heat of the grinding and become cakey. Transfer the blend to an air tight container.

A well ventilated kitchen is a must for making this blend. Roasting the large quantity of chilies may cause a coughing fit.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Box Lunches

I have been quite busy lately and it seems like May is just slipping away! My bees are changeling me in way I did not expect. Our contract negotiations are not going well and it has been a very disheartening process. As I write this post, I am preparing for another informational picket this afternoon, wondering if I will be part of large labor strike in a few weeks. We are still celebrating Tina's appointment and busy with end of the academic year activities! My friends Mara and Miryam are still in crisis mode so I have been delivering food to sustain them every Tuesday. Today I made lunches for my upcoming work weekend. It took less than two hours total to put these together and I can assure you my colleagues are going to be salivating when I dig into these gluten-free meals. I have been cooking out of Grill Every Day by Diane Morgan, she is simply genius. Every single recipe is a winner and I am working my way though each and every one of them. I have never prepared polenta by scratch or using the precooked tubes, nor have I had polenta very often. The photo of this dish looks so good I had to try it and decided to pair it with a Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad. I love chickpeas and figured if the polenta dish failed at least I would have the salad. Both are wonderful.

Grilled Polenta with Sweet Red Peppers and Onion Wedges

serves 5

1 tube, 18 ounces precooked Polenta (I used San Gennaro)
olive oil
kosher salt
2 red bell peppers, or any peppers of your choice, quartered, seeded and deribbed
1 large walla walla or other sweet onion, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Prepare grill.

Trim off the irregular ends of each, slice the polenta into ten half inch thick slices. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Generously brush slices, both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, add any other herb you might like. Brush peppers and onions with olive oil and season them.

Oil the grill grate. Arrange polenta slices directly over the hot fire and grill, turning once, until they have grill marks etched across both sides, 8 - 10 minutes total. While the polenta is grilling, arrange the peppers and onions over the fire and grill, turning once, until the edges begin to char and they are tenter but still firm, about 6 minutes.

To serve, cut the peppers into thin strips, slice the onion rounds in half, arrange 2 polenta slices, slightly overlapping them on each plate and top with some peppers and onions. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve immediately.

Chickpea Salad

6 tablespoons meyer lemon olive oil
freshly grated zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
1/8 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can pitted ripe olives, halved (I used Kalmata)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

To make the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and cayenne.

In a large bowl,combine the chickpeas, olives, tomatoes, parsley and feta. Add the dressing and toss gently to combine. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Alternatively, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days, remove from fridge and allow to sit for 30 minutes before serving.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sweet Potato Curry

I get very confused about the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. While this recipe calls for sweet potatoes I always use the darker orange fleshed potato when I make this which might be a yam, or at least labeled as such in the store. Quite frankly I am not sure it would matter what you used, including pumpkin. This is a tasty South Indian dish. The recipe below is adapted from Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking by Raghavan Iyer, my Indian cooking mentor. While quite an oxymoron, this is one of the best Indian cookbooks ever! The original recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon asafetida, also know as hing. Asafetida is a spice which has a pungent, unpleasant smell in the raw form, powder or block. Once cooked it delivers a smooth flavor similar to leeks. Asafetida is never gluten free! In the powdered form it is laced with wheat flour to keep it from clumping. Some speculation has been made that in the brick form it might be GF. According to Raghavan, who did some research for me and translated the ingredients on a number bricks, it is not GF. I asked Raghavan to look into this for me after getting very very sick from eating something made with brick hing.

Sweet Potato Curry

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds (I always use black)
2 tablespoons yellow split peas, chana dal
1 pound sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
8 fresh karhi leaves or two tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon Tangy Sambhar Powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water

Heat oil and mustard seed in a deep 12 inch skillet over medium high heat. Once seeds begin to pop, cover pot and wait until popping stops. Add split peas, stir-fry for a minute or two, until the peas are golden brown. Add remaining ingredients except water; stir fry 1-2 minutes. Stir in water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 5-7 minutes or until sweet potato is tender.

Tangy Sambhar Powder

1/2 cup dried red thai chilies
1/4 cup dried yellow split peas, chana dal
2 tablespoons sesame seed
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp or grated lime or lemon peel
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Heat 6 inch skilled over medium high heat. Place mixture in skillet and roast 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until seeds crackle, spices turn one shade darker and mixture has a nutty yet pungent aroma. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Place roasted spice blend into a spice grinder in batches, about 3 tablespoons at a time. Grind until mixture looks like the texture of finely ground pepper. Store in an airtight jar at room temperature for a month. After a month or so it starts to loose its full flavor.

T.V. Dinners

While I may have eaten my share of Banquet style t.v. dinners growing up we didn't actually have a t.v. until I was about 12. My parents did a fair amount of socializing so weekend evenings always featured some frozen dinner in an aluminum tray that my mother heated in the oven. My favorite was the fried chicken with a dollop of instant mashed potatoes, frozen mixed vegetables and a spoonful of warm applesauce, chicken potpies, or Salisbury steak in some kind of gelatinous gravy with macaroni and cheese. We had 6 kids so this kind of convenience food defined my mother's cooking. We sat around the kitchen table, eating our dinner until the babysitter showed up, not realizing that these dinners were meant to be enjoyed in front of the t.v. My parents eventually got a small black and white t.v. but it was reserved for news and The Laurence Welk Show. My mom would tuck the T.V. cord into her purse, which plug into the t.v. as well as the wall, and off they went leaving us to other activities. It didn't take long for us to discover the blender cord was a viable substitute and we moved our t.v. dinners into the family room to watch Hogan's Hero's, The Brady Bunch and Bewitched.

I have redefined the 1950's style t.v. dinner! Gone are the aluminum trays, replaced with a microwavable tray and a delicious home cooked meal. I do a great deal of cooking for other people, delivering meals in times of celebration or crisis. I know most of my friends are very busy shuffling children here and there or taking care of elderly parents. I love to deliver a meal to ease the stress or help in celebrating a special event.

This week I delivered Indian inspired dinners to friends overwhelmed with an unexpected stressful event. Fried chicken and instant mashed potatoes are out! These dinners feature halibut fillets with a coconut milk-mustard seed sauce, greens with garlic and raisins, sweet potato curry and lime-flavored rice with roasted yellow split peas. The beauty of Indian food is that it saves well and is easily reheated, even gaining some flavor over time. Recipes coming in the weeks ahead.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pasta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Spring always inspires me to cook a little lighter and move away from roasted root vegetable that seem to dominate the dinner plate during the long, dark, cold Minnesota winters. I love a spring that is slow in arriving, a gentle warming and the gradual appearance of green. But that hardly ever happens. It seems that I wake up one day and overnight a plethora of green emerges. It has been lovely here the past several weeks, warm and generally sunny. Life is good. My bees are in their hive. Tina was recently appointed Director of the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program. I have saved enough money to be out of work for a month if we strike in June and my health is good. Last week I made a wonderful pasta salad loaded with fresh ingredients. I don't make pasta very often, gluten-free packaged pasta just isn't that good. Although I do have a friend who eats GF pasta just because she thinks it is better. I am still trying to find that perfect cooking point, where the pasta is done but not falling apart! This however was full of such other great ingredients that the pasta was less significant in the big picture. You can adapt it to meet your preference!

For the pasta

1/2 pound pasta (I used a combination of fusilli and penne)
kosher salt
olive oil
1 pound ripe tomatoes, seeded and medium-diced
3/4 cup good kalamata olives, pitted and diced
1 pound fresh mozzarella, medium diced
1/2 pound Genoa salami, diced
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

For the dressing

5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon capers, drained
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup packed basil leaves, julienned

Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water with a splash of oil to keep it from sticking together. Boil according to the directions on the package. I usually subtract a minute or two with GF pasta. Drain well and allow to cool. Place the pasta in a bowl and add the tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, salami, and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

For the dressing, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt and pepper in a food processor until almost smooth.

Pour the dressing over the pasta, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and basil, and toss well.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Korean BBQ

I simply adore ethnic food, any ethnic food. Hungarian cuisine has surely captured my attention in the last two years and if all goes well, my love affair with Budapest is about to explode, but that is an entirely different story. If I really had my way I would travel to India and learn to cook from the Indian matriarchs over open air fires. My doctor does not feel I have the intestinal health to withstand some of the hygiene issues in India. So for now, I explore on my own where I have control over safe preparation practices and continue to dream.

I don't have any experience in cooking Korean food but before being diagnosed with Celiac Disease Tina and I would frequent a very authentic Korean restaurant in a little strip mall and eat kimchi, stone pot Bibimbap and Bulgogi. O.K. so I ate kimchi, Tina wouldn't touch it. The Bibimbap was the best. I loved the crispy rice sticking to the stone pot smothered with Gochujang, a savory fermented Korean condiment which I know know is laced with barley and wheat. So sad. I haven't tried to recreate the Bibimbap mostly because I don't have the stone pots and the idea of having Bibimbap without Gochujang, well not an option.

Tina loved the Bulgogi so I set out to recreate this BBQ beef dish, embellishing it with some grilled onions and asparagus (not a Korean element). I've actually made this several times. When Tina comes home from work and sees the beef marinating she always says the same thing, "Is this what I think it is?".

Korean BBQ

2 pound flank steak
1/2 cup gluten-free soy sauce
1/4 cup sweet sherry
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 shallot minced, or any onion of your choice
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Vegetables of your choice. I use a bunch of asparagus and an onion

Score meat with a knife about 1/8 inch deep in a diagonal pattern. This will help the meat absorb the marinade.

Mix the marinade ingredients together, I like to use an blender to make sure the ingredients are well incorporated. Place meat in a container or zip lock bag and cover with most of the marinade, reserve some to marinade any vegetable you might like to grill. Marinade at least a few hours, preferably overnight, turning occasionally.

Trim asparagus and cut to a size of your liking. I use just the tips and freeze the stems to make broth for soup at a later time. Cut onion into chunks if using and marinade both for a few hours or overnight.

When your ready to cook, drain marinade from meat and vegetable and prepare on a grill or broil. I like to grill the vegetables but you could roast or broil them as well. I cook the meat until it reaches about 140 degrees and then let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing. Slice thin and serve over rice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Your Celiac Disease is in complete remission"

I have been diligent, never once knowingly eaten gluten. I wouldn't dare. It could kill me. I read the labels of everything I eat, I call manufactures to find out about processing practices, I grill chefs and servers at restaurants. I keep a kitchen that is not gluten free but take extreme measures to eliminate any risk of cross contamination. Recently I had a pediatric GI doc ask me about two toasters. Of course we have two toasters, are you kidding. I don't take any risks. Mine is the one with the smiley face, the gluten-free logo in our house. We have separate wooden spoons and separate strainers, food that has been contaminated is all clearly marked. I gave up an 8 week mission trip to India, a long time dream, because my physician did not feel it would be safe for me. I don't eat oat, the protein is too closely related to gluten. I believe everyone with Celiac Disease should be this vigilant. In my case, because I was diagnosed so late in life I had a gross amount of intestinal damage. It took four years for my intestine to recover. Even if I had ingested gluten over the course of the first three years of being gluten-free, I probably would not have known because I had lingering symptoms. I couldn't take a single risk if I wanted to recover. I have had an annual endoscopy, four in all, the gold standard for the diagnosis and evaluation of Celiac Disease. I remember getting the results after being gluten-free for a year, essentially unchanged, no improvement really. I was devastated.

I had my annual appointment with Dr. Murray, an internationally respected Celiac expert, this past Monday. During our conversation he asked me if I would be willing to work with the Mayo Clinic public relations folks to do a piece on Celiac Disease, to create awareness and profile an individual who has done well and copes with the demands of the disease. Dr. Murray said more than 60% of his Celiac population struggle with depression and compliance, it would be good for people to see someone who has such a positive attitude. I recalled my diagnosis, immediately after my first endoscopy, still slightly sedated. The physician who scoped me told me he was sending the biopsies but that he was diagnosing me now, based on his visual inspection. No doubt, I had Celiac Disease. I decided, right then and there, this was going to be about what I could have, not what I couldn't. I knew, going to a place of deprivation would not serve me well. Outside of not being able to take that trip to India, I have not shed a tear. I have never felt sorry for myself, I have never complained and I have never felt deprived. Of course there has been the annual disappointment of not being 100% recovered, I won't kid anyone, the slowness of recovery has been hard. And, I can't tell you what I would give to eat oat!

Trust me, a glass half full, is not my usual M.O. I tend to be more doom and gloom in nature, always considering the worst case scenario. So taking this approach was a huge change in strategy for me. I am fortunate, in so many ways. I have a brother with Celiac. I have a partner who provides unwavering support. I have friends and family who are willing to go to great length to cook safely for me. I am well educated. I have a very good job that provides an income to support my diet. I have health insurance, good health insurance. I have access to the best medical care in the country. I know how to navigate the health care system. With all of this in my favor, why would I go to a place of deprivation and depression.

I will be honest however. It isn't always easy. I don't get discouraged day to day but do worry about the long term risks associated with Celiac Disease, even treated Celiac, especially in individuals diagnosed late in life. I get frustrated every now and then, especially when I want safely fried french fries, my favorite. I like to think I have recovered from the disappointment of India but I am afraid that one will be with me for a very long time. But for the most part, I think Dr. Murray pegged me right. I am a good role model. I don't want to be the poster girl for Celiac Disease but if I can help others stay positive and healthy, I am happy to do so.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Crab Bisque

We don't have fish or shellfish very often. Not because we don't like it, we do. I just don't have a great deal of confidence cooking seafood. I splurged in February, using a gift certificate to a local seafood store and some of my own hard earned money and made a special crab leg dinner. But these were not ordinary crab legs, they were Bristol Bay Red King crab legs from Alaska. Red King is the most prized crab in the word, hailed for their sweet succulent flavor and jumbo size, not to mention the snowy white meat. And when I say jumbo, I mean jumbo. I have never seen legs this size before, so long they didn't even fit in our largest pot. We feasted on baked potatoes, a salad and ate crab until we couldn't eat anymore. I froze all the shells and a few days later I used the shells to make crab stock which I also froze. This week I used the frozen stock to make Crab Bisque. Bisque's are involved, time consuming soups, so making the stock ahead of time is a real time saver! When I was called upon to help provide some meals for two friends who had surgery this week I was grateful to have the stock tucked away in the freezer, ready to be used.

Seafood Stock

You can make this stock in advance and freeze it using any seafood shells (shrimp, crab, lobster)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups shells from shrimp, crab or lobster, or a combination of shells.
2 cups chopped onions
2 carrots, unpeeled, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup good white wine
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
10 sprigs thyme

Warm olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the seafood shells, onions, carrots, and celery and sauté for 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the garlic, cook another 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 quarts water, the wine, tomato paste, salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, simmer for an hour. Strain through a sieve, pressing the solids. You should have about a quart of stock, make up the difference with wine or water. Freeze if not using immediately.

Crab Bisque

You can use any shellfish you want.

*1 pound of cooked crab meat, in bite size pieces, reserve shells.
4 cups seafood stock
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup rice flour
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cream, half and half or milk, hot but not boiling! (I used cream)

I used a combination of canned crab meat and fresh. Because I was pureeing the soup I figured the quality of the most of the crab did not matter so I used 13 ounces of good canned crab and about a pound of fresh crab removed from legs which I steamed, reserving the shells. If you want a more economic soup skip the fresh crab in pieces you put in at the end.

Place the seafood shells and seafood stock in a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock. If you don't have four cups, add water or wine.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large stock pot. Add leeks and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, until tender. Add garlic and cook one more minute. Add cayenne and canned crab and cook over medium to low heat for 3 minutes. Add the Cognac and cook one minute, the add the sherry and cook 3 minutes longer. Transfer the crab and leeks to a blender or food processor and process until coarsely pureed. I am fortunate to have a vitmix and used this to puree my seafood.

In the same pot, melt the butter, add the rice flour and cook for at least a minute. Slowly add the cream stirring with a whisk or wooden spoon to make a roux, then add the seafood stock, slowly, thickening as you go along. Add the pureed crab, tomato paste, salt and pepper, puree again if you want a velvety smooth soup. Return to the pot and add the fresh cooked lumps of crab. Serve immediately. If you make this ahead of time, reheat slowly, stirring often over medium heat.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Budapest Reunion and GF Chicken Paprikash

I never got to try Chicken Paprikash while in Budapest and found myself pining over plates of it that were served to Tina and her students. Wheat flour, the everlasting travel downer was always used as a thickener in the fiery sauce. When Tina said she wanted to host a reunion dinner for her students I knew right away that Chicken Paprikash would be on the menu and that it would be gluten-free. Finally I would get to sample this quintessential Hungarian favorite. I also knew that I would have a very palate savvy audience, well acquainted with good traditional Hungarian dishes. Wanting to impress, I held a dry run with Tina and her brother. I read and read, contemplating the recipes at hand, tweaking as I went along, making notes of my changes. I held my breath as Tina took her first bite. "You got it babe, you got it exactly!" I was thrilled and grateful for the kilo bag of sweet paprika I bought home with me. The reunion dinner will consume several cups of my authentic Hungarian paprika.

So this Friday 20 students who spent a month studying math with Tina in Budapest will come together for a reunion, showing pictures, telling stories and remembering the month they had in January. I am cooking all week, it is a big undertaking. The menu includes Chicken Paprikash, Hungarian Beef Stew, Hungarian Style Green Beans with dill, and potatoes (I don't have time to make enough spaetzle). For desert we will have Hungarian Shortbread Tart, raspberry and apricot.

Here is the recipe for the Chicken Paprikash I finally settled on.

2 tablespoons bacon grease (I used three pieces of bacon to get two tablespoons)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
2-3 pounds of whole chicken cut unto pieces (I used a combination of boneless breast and thighs, both pounded *
14.5 ounces caned diced tomatoes (I used about 2 quart size cans of my own canned tomatoes drained, reserving half a cup of the liquid)
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons rice flour
8 ounces sour cream
2 bay leaves

* Most recipes call for bone in chicken. Tina said most of the Chicken Paprikash they had in Budapest was made with pounded chicken breast. Use whatever you want.

Heat bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and paprika. Stir together cook until onion is translucent. Add chicken pieces, bay leaves and pour in the chicken broth. Cook over medium heat for 40 minutes, longer if using bone-in chicken, adding more broth if necessary. Remove and discard bay leaves. Remove chicken, add tomatoes to the pot. Puree the sauce in a blender, food processor or using an immersion blender. Return sauce to pan. In a medium bowl blend rice flour, sour cream and reserved tomato juice together. When well blended add mixture to the tomato sauce and return chicken to the pot. Stir until thick and headed through.