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.