Thursday, December 29, 2011

Finally! A Gluten-Free Challah

We are fortunate to run with a lively group of observant lesbian Jews. They are among my most favorite people in the world. They are the most inclusive, the most loving and the most interesting in my circle of friends. To say they are my favorite would not be understating how I feel about them. We get invited to celebrate all of the Jewish holidays, Pesach, Purim, Hanukkah, and Sukkot to name a few. I look forward to these events like a three year old in a candy story. My enthusiasm is palpable. My favorite however is the weekly festive day of Shabbat, the seventh day of the Jewish week and the Jewish day of rest during which Jews recall the Biblical Creation account in Genesis in which God creates the Heaves and the Earth in six days and rests on the seventh. I love the deliberateness of being freed from the regular labors of everyday life.

So when Friday rolls around and we are invited to Shabbat dinner I get giddy. What I like most is the ritual and the prayer that is the center of the Friday evening meal beginning with Kiddish and a blessing recited over two loaves of Challah. According to Jewish law, Shabbat starts on Friday, a few minutes before sunset. Candles are lit and a prayer welcomes the arrival of Shabbat. Two songs are sung one greeting the Shabbat angels into the house and the other thanking the woman of the house for all the work she has done during the past week. After a blessing over the wine another blessing is recited over the bread, the Challah is broken, dipped in salt and eaten. It is all very spiritual and each step is significant. I always bring my own bread, usually a piece of Udi's and I always feel, well a little left out which is really silly because I have been invited to this table. I just always want to be having some Challah, just like everyone else.

So when a favorite blogger of mine posted a recipe for Gluten-Free Challah last September I thought, next Shabbat, I am making this for myself. To be completely traditional my loaf should be braided, not round. The only time a loaf of round Challah appears is for Rosh Hashanah, representing the circle of the year. I don't think anyone will mind my Challah isn't braided tomorrow night and quite frankly I don't think I am up to braiding gluten free dough. Personally I am just happy to show up with the real deal in hand for myself. It took 6 hours which I can not imagine doing every single week but I know that is exactly what my friends do every single Friday before the sun goes down, they make two loaves of Challah!

You can google gluten-free Challah and you will get a plethora of results. I am a fan of The Gluten Free Canteen which is where I got my recipe: I am simply delighted with the results and I can't wait until sundown tomorrow evening.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Beaver Creek Chef

We are going to Beaver Creek in February, a week of skiing for most of those going on the trip. For me, it will be a week of cooking for the house. Can you imagine, a ski trip with a personal chef? I am already busy thinking of great menus and gathering my tasting team to try new recipes. First up, an authentic Mexican menu. I am working on pork carnitas with homemade corn tortillas. The corn tortillas really do require some practice so we are going to be enjoying a fair amount of them in the next few months. I've got the pork carnitas and refried beans down, they are ease. So last night I served a potential appetizer to my trusted group of taste testers. Parmesan crusted crab quesadillas with roasted red pepper and chipotle chili aioli and roasted pineapple salsa. Tina always laughs when I say everything is easy. So here we go, this is not easy, it is complicated, time consuming, involves multiple steps and undivided attention! While it is still a work in progress it is worth all the time and effort.

Parmesan Crusted Crab Quesadillas

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chipotle-cream cheese sauce (see below)
salt and pepper
4 12 inch flour tortillas (I used 12 6 inch corn tortillas, store bought not homemade)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (please don't use that stuff in a the green can, grate your own)
1 cup grated monetary jack
1 cup crumble queso freso
roasted red pepper and chipotle chili aioli (see below)
Roasted pineapple salsa (see below)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
8 ounces dungeness crab (see notes)

Chipotle-cream cheese sauce (makes about 2 1/2 cups)

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon minced jalapeno
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano (I used dry)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle puree (see notes)
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup grated Monterrey jack

Notes: I used La Costena Chipotle pepper in Adobe sauce which is GF! There is enough puree in the can to get what you need by a long shot. You can also puree one of the peppers if you want. I also used the remaining sauce to make another dish, otherwise I would have cut it in thirds to get what I needed. That being said, I think 1/2 a cup of sauce was a little scant for the recipe and next time I will use a little more. Also, I did not use dungeness crab. I used a very high quality canned crab that was sort of flaked. Next time I am going to go for a lump crab or many be a mix of lump and flake. These were really good but I would be nice to bite into a chunk of crab right?

In a sauce pan over medium high melt the butter. Add the onion and saute until soft. Add the Jalapeno, garlic and red pepper, continue to saute until soft. Add the oregano, salt, cumin and chipotle puree. Decrease the heat to low, add the cream and cream cheese and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring until the cream cheese is melted and blended. Remove the pan from the heat and add the Monterrey jack, stirring until melted and well incorporated. The sauce will get sort of stringy, especially as it cools, keep warm over the lowest of heat possible or plan on reheating to use it.

Roasted Red Pepper and Chipotle Chili aioli

3-4 cloves of garlic
olive oil
1 red bell pepper, roasted and seeded
1 cup mayo
1 teaspoon chipotle puree (again, I used the canned stuff)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Notes: This stuff is really good and can be used as a spread on just about anything. That being said, it make way too much for any one household and next time I might try and cut it half.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place garlic on a piece of tin foil, drizzle with olive oil and roast in oven for 30 minutes. Combine the roasted garlic, roasted red pepper, mayo, chipotle puree, lemon juice and salt in a blender of food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use for up to three days.

Grilled pineapple salsa

OK I sort of made this one up so the proportions are really a guess.

1 cup of pineapple chunks
olive oil
1/4 a red pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
pinch of salt, pinch of pepper
1/2 teaspoon chipotle puree

Drizzle pineapple with olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, turning once. Once cool, toss with everything else

O.K. now you have your chipotle cream cheese sauce and roasted red pepper aioli ready. Time to make the quesadillas.

To make the filling: Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a saucepan over medium high head. Add the onion and saute until soft, add the garlic, red pepper and green onion and saute for another minute or so, until soft. Add the Chipotle-cream cheese sauce (make sure it is warmish or it will be very stringy and hard to get out of the pan and mix in). Stir everything together and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and fold in the crab meat. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the quesadillas: Preheat a griddle or heat a skillet over medium heat. Please do this! Preheat before you start! Lay one tortilla on a work surface and brush the top side of the tortilla with olive oil. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan over the tortilla. Carefully flip the tortilla, oil-and-cheese side down, onto the griddle or skillet. Spread this tortilla with 1/4 cup queso fresco and 1/4 cup Monterrey jack cheese and then a quarter of the crab meat leaving a half inch boarder around the edge. Cook the quesadilla for 4-5 minutes or until the cheese melts and the other side is golden brown. Place the quesadilla on the work surface and fold in half. Repeat with remaining tortillas to make the other three quesadillas. I didn't do this as I had 6 inch tortillas on hand. Instead, I prepared a tortilla as directed placing the filling on the tortilla and then I topped that filled tortilla with another tortilla. I didn't brush the top one with olive oil or sprinkle with the Parmesan, next time I will. After 4 minutes I flipped the tortilla over and cooked it for another three minutes. I also put the finished tortillas on a cookie sheet and kept them in a 300 degree oven to keep them warm while I finished all of the.

To Serve: Cut the quesadillas into wedges. Put aioli in a a squirt bottle and decorate the plates with the aioli, alternatively spoon the aioli over the quesadillas. Spoon the salsa on the quesadillas and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Whew, that was a lot of work. But oh so worth it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ahoh! Sugared Cranberries where have you been all my life?

I am having a hard time keeping Ziva Jane away from these little delights. Sugared Cranberries. Start popping them in your mouth and you won't stop! Not to mention they are so easy. I love cranberries and the combination of sweet and tart rock my mouth to no end. They are a sparkly snack that pack a real zing.

Sugared Cranberries

2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup superfine sugar
1 bag fresh cranberries

Boil the water and add the granulated sugar. Stir, reduce heat to medium low and continue to heat until sugar is dissolved. Pour the sugar into a large container with a lid, add the cranberries and cover. Refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours. Strain the cranberries and if you want reserve the "cranberry syrup" for another use. You know me, no waste around here. I am going to use it for some kind of holiday beverage. Pour the cranberries into a large, shallow dish and add the superfine sugar, tossing until the cranberries are coated. Transfer to a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet lined with parchment and leave to dry for a few hours.

If you can keep yourself from eating them all there are lots of ways to use these little holiday treats. Put out instead of expensive nuts during a party, use as garnishes for drinks, cookies, pies, cupcakes or package to give as gifts.

They will last about a week or so at room temp, stored in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vegan Tacos

Full disclosure, this is not my photo, nor is it how we enjoyed our vegan taco "meat". In the excitement of the moment I forgot to take a photo. So this came from a blog The Ordinary Vegetarian.

After 6 weeks in Hungary, a sailing trip in the Greek Isles and a trip to London and Stockholm with her mother Tina wants nothing but her favorites which included a taco dinner. However, we invited a vegetarian friend over to join us. This was the perfect opportunity for me to make a vegan taco meat, something I have wanted to do for a long time. I just have to say, this was wonderful, over the top in fact and even Tina liked it. Although we had traditional taco meat on hand as well. I always struggle with a taco meal menu and always end up with an overly starchy meal. I served this with a Mexican style rice and refried beans. Admittedly we all enjoyed all of it but it was a starchy load of beans, rice and lentils. You can hardly count the garnishes a serving of vegetables. We served the taco meat in traditional hard taco shells but this vegan rendition would be great in tortillas or even as a taco salad!

Vegan Taco Meat

2 teaspoons olive oil
one onion diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 cup red lentils

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high. Saute onions and garlic for a few minutes, add the pepper and mushrooms and continue to saute a few more minutes. Add the lentils, carrots, chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, bay leave, salt and cayenne. Saute for one minute, stir in broth and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the mixture starts to dry out add more broth.

Remove from heat. Most of the liquid should be absorbed. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the tomato paste and lime juice. At this point decide what consistency you want. I put half the mixture into a food processor and processes slightly and returned it to the pan. I wanted a more crumbly texture, not a puree. You could skip this step altogether as it didn't really do much. Taste for salt and add more if needed.

Serve as you like.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Good Cooking Is Trouble" Paul Bertolli

Good cooking is trouble and the trouble begins when you try to take it seriously, in earnest. Enter the humble tomato the most multifaceted of all summer produce. I wait, patiently all year long for the end of August, longing for the full taste of a local, summer ripe tomato. I don't know anyone who writes better of the tomato than Paul Bertolli, executive chef and co-owner of Oliveto, a restaurant in Oakland CA that I hope to visit someday. Bertolli also wrote my first serious cookbook, the cookbook that began the start from scratch deal around here "Cooking by Hand".  It isn't your everyday kind of cookbook, although it does have recipes. It is a collection of essays, reflections on the appreciation of food. It reminds us to stop and think about what we are eating and to appreciate how good food happens.

It was Bertolli who inspired me to start canning, make my own pesto, toast nuts and grind them into nut butters, to make my own mayo, grind sirloin to render hamburger. The list is endless. So you can only imagine my intrigue when realized I could make my own tomato paste. Bertolli calls it Conserva, I call it Gold Paste. A way to spend hours cooking something you can buy at the store. I am so there! Conserva is essentially homemade tomato paste but much better than anything you will find in a can. Conserva's flavor is deep and complex, a tomato reduced to its purest, richest, form.

Most people would consider the endeavor of Conserva short of crazy. I spent $20 on 5 pounds of tomatoes. 8 hours later they have been reduced to about 6 ounces of a very flavorful tomato paste. Two small jars, almost nothing until you taste this stuff. I have done it before, and I will do it again. Nothing makes me happier than a teaspoon of this spread on a piece of toast, blending it with tomato sauce for pasta or simply licking a finger full right out of the jar.

I made a few adjustments to Bertolli's instructions including peeling my tomatoes first and straining the cooked tomatoes to reduce the amount of liquid up front. I may have ended up with a little more if I had not strained the tomatoes.

Making Conserva is easy, but it does takes time at attention, a perfect activity for a fall day.

Cut 5 pounds of ripe tomatoes into small dice; this promotes the most rapid cooking. Warm a little olive oil in a saucepan big enough to hold the tomatoes. Salt them lightly and bring to a rapid boil. Cook the tomatoes until soft about 10-15 minutes. Immediately pass them through the finest plate of a food mill, pushing as much of the tomato pulp through the sieve as you can. The purée should not have any seeds.
Lightly oil a half sheet pan with olive oil. Place the tomatoes in a 300 degree oven for about 3 hours. Use a spatula to turn the paste over on itself every 30 minutes or so. The water will evaporate and you will notice the surface darken and the liquid will thicken. Reduce the over to 250 after 3 hours and continue to evaporate the paste for another few hours until it is thick, shiny and brick-colored. I had some really darkened, burnt areas so I passed the paste through a sieve when it was done to remove the specks of burnt paste. Store in a glass canning jar topped with 1/4 an inch of olive oil. As you use it, make sure you maintain the level of olive oil on top. Bertolli says it can safely be stored at room temperature but I keep my in the fridge.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More From the Fall Pantry: Citron Confit

Confession: I hate waste. I can't waste anything, especially food. I didn't grow up poor, to the contrary. Still, I abhor waste. I can track this characteristic back to my childhood. While there was always more than plenty we didn't waste. At the end of a meal my Father would return portions of milk we didn't drink back into the milk carton. I know, very gross. We ate what we were served. It was that simple. If fruit or vegetables, especially lettuce got slightly brown, it didn't matter, it was eaten. I remember being slightly overcome with disgust in college when I came home for holidays that the food in our fridge looked like it might have a life of its own. I am sure, even though we had money and didn't have to stretch, this was a some kind of post depression behavior that came through my Father. After all, he was the one collecting the milk at the end of dinner.

The essence of this mentality stuck. I don't actually pour milk back into the carton but I do not throw out much and I make use of parts of food most people discard without a thought. Bones of any kind go into the freezer, shells from shrimp, crab or lobster, into the freezer. Peelings of vegetables, carrots, celery, onion skins for example, all go into the freezer. Like magic the trimmings of our meat, fish and vegetables turn into homemade broth on a regular basis. There is something wickedly satisfying about this!

Citrus! God forbid the rind of anything get tossed. However in the summer this presents a particular problem as I make fresh squeezed lemonade almost every week. Before juicing lemons, limes or oranges they get zested. The zest gets frozen and then tossed into something else later, like homemade lemon curd. By the end of the summer I am completely overstocked with zest. So the idea of Citron Confit, or preserved lemons really appeals to me. Citrus rind essentially picked to be tossed into just about anything to liven up a dish, what a great idea and so easy.

I had a few lemons and limes sitting around that just were not going to get used in the next few days so I decided to put up some preserved lemons and limes. I simply cut up the lemons and tossed them into a pint size canning jar with lots of salt, smashing them down to create a plethora of juice. They will sit on the counter for a few weeks, getting shaken every now and again for a few weeks and then I will put them in the fridge and use them for any number of things, tossed into steamed vegetables, smashed into butter to dollop on fish, mixed in a gluten-free couscous, into a bowl of wild rice, the list is endless. There are so many different ways to go about preserving citrus but it really is as easy as just tossing the peel into a jar with salt. Go ahead and google preserved lemons and you will find a dozens of directions and ideas for jazzing up the brine with bay leaf, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cinnamon . . . I just stuck with salt for my first attempt. I am anxious to to try the fruits of my labor after tincture of time and plan on making a smoked paprika-chipotle sauce that calls for preserved lemons to serve at a welcome home party for my wife.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grilled Sweet Corn, Black Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad with Chipotle Chicken

This salad pulls the flavors of the end of summer together! Succulent sweet corn and juicy tomatoes are at their best the end of August and into September. I can't help but eat this almost any day. You can make any number of variations changing out the the beans, meat, no meat, salmon. What ever you are in the mood for the basic salad is wonderful

2 ears sweet corn, grilled and kernels removed from the cob
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
5 slices of cooked bacon crumbled
one bunch green onions, including green tops, cut on the diagonal into 1/4 inch slices
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 southwest chipotle chile-grilled chicken breasts

Dressing for salad
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon adobe sauce from canned chipotle chiles
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. I like to use an emulsion blender to mix the dressing. Toss everything together and serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.

To make Chipotle chicken:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 cup honey
1 tablespoons minced chipotle chiles in adobe sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts
olive oil
ground pepper

Melt butter, add honey, chiles and 1/2 teaspoon honey, mix and keep warm. Brush chicken breasts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill chicken for 3 minutes on each side then brush both sides with chipotle butter, basting twice more until the chicken is done. Cool, dice and add to salad.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Fall Pantry: Roasting, toasting and pasting

Indian food. By far my favorite. Raghavan Iyer, my Indian cooking mentor. I meet Raghavan a few years ago when I took my first Indian cooking class. I was so undone I asked him to host my 50th birthday party, a cooking class for 10 in my own kitchen. We were spellbound as Raghavan moved through the kitchen showing us how to make a few classic Indian dishes and then spun tales from India and read from his book The Turmeric Trail, a poignant story of his grandmother's awakening. His cookbooks are pieces of art and literature as far as I am concerned. Perhaps my favorite part of each book is the chapter dedicated to the tutorial of spices and endless recipes for rubs, pastes and spice blends. I have learned so much about spices from Raghavan. Always purchase spices in small amounts, get them in their whole form when ever possible, store them in air tight containers away from light and heat. I have learned that each spice renders a plethora of flavor depending on what you do with it. You get a completely different flavor from grinding, roasting, toasting and using it whole. I love spending a day mixing small batches of Ragavan's blends together to have on hand for impromptu Indian cooking. Madras Curry Masala Punjabi Garam Masala, Sambhar Masala, Panch Phoron, Tangy Sambhar Masala, Toasted Ground Cumin Blend, the list is endless. Perhaps my favorite however are the pastes I can throw together and freeze in ice cube trays to have on hand, Garlic, Ginger, Fried onion Paste and Red Chili Vinegar Paste. When I need fresh grated ginger I always seem to get way too much. Making a paste out of what I don't use is a great way to use the left over ginger before it goes bad.

Ragavan's Ginger Paste

8 ounces coarsely chopped fresh ginger (Raghavan says you don't need to peel it but I do)
Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup water into a blender jar, add the ginger. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed until it forms a smooth, light brown paste. Store in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for one week. I like to put 1 tablespoon portions in ice cube trays and freeze. Once they are frozen pop them out and transfer to a freezer bag.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Fall Pantry

I love the end of August and September, shorter days, crisp cool mornings and evenings, the changing color of the leaves. But most of all I love the activities of setting up my fall pantry. The harvest season. I must have been a pioneer or a farmer in my previous life, working the land to make my home and feed my family.

I am wired to wake up at the crack of dawn, even before then on most days. Heading out in the dark early morning to the farmers market to gather my tomatoes, green beans, corn, and basil

I have a fall routine, a ritual if you will of getting our pantry ready for the fall so that all it takes is cracking open a can of roasted tomatoes, opening a bag of fresh corn off the cob, slathering in the pesto, tossing in a can of my own garbanzo, black or pinto beans, adding some roasted red pepper, a dollop of homemade apple sauce, rubbing a roast in my own spice blend. I can, I roast, I toast, and I freeze. I love it

If you were to visit in the cold dark months of December or January you would have a sensory experience and a meal you would never forget. I am likely to make authentic Hungarian Gulyás with my canned fire roasted red peppers, shrimp tossed with pesto, smoked pork butt rubbed with my own Latin spice rub with real black beans and caramelized onions, roasted tomato soup or a cheddar corn chowder, a sandwich on sourdough with homemade pesto, homemade mayo layered with roasted chicken and gouda. And if you liked Indian food you would experience the aroma of complex toasted spice blends that are made in small batches just so they stay fresh. You probably wouldn’t even notice that you were eating gluten-free

It is a major undertaking and consumes my every waking moment for nearly 6 weeks and I have not even mentioned the honey harvest that we hope for every year. It is the only time of year you are likely to find me awake past 10. I occasionally have a gluten-free pizza delivered if the canner is running late into the evening. I pop over to the Minnesota State Fair for safely fried French fries in between canning runs. There is plenty of coffee, fresh squeezed lemonade and tonic water to carry me through the days.

Thabo Lama would have loved these days, so much to do in the kitchen, so much to smell and test. I think he would have been particularly partial to husking 100 ears of corn and removing the kernels from the cob. I miss him dearly but it seems he rubbed off on Ziva Jane. We are only into day two but so far she seems to be keeping her ear to the rattle of the pressure canner and checking it all out. She is easily distracted however and likes to screw up my small kitchen T.V., pressing buttons in such a manner that getting the signal and CNN back is a frustrating undertaking. I am grateful for her company even if she is a little trouble.

My go-to pesto recipe is easy and freezes well. I tried many variations and suggest you do to. Personally I like toasted pine nut but you can use any kind of nut. Regardless of what you choose, toasting is worth the effort. You can back off on the garlic or hold back on the pepper. I freeze small portions in various sized airtight containers and even use ice cube trays for really small portions. I do cover the top with a thin film of olive oil and plastic wrap

4 cups fresh basil, tightly packed

½ cup toasted pine nuts, cooled completely

5 cloves of garlic, minced

2/3 cup freshly grated parm

1-teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon pepper

1/3-cup good olive oil

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade puree the toasted nuts and garlic. Add the basil, salt and pepper and puree for about 30 seconds after the basil has become incorporated. Slowly add the olive oil and then add the cheese, mixing together.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thabo Lama and His Special Human

’In the short walk of this life
We have had our share of joy.
Let us hope to meet again
In the youth of our next life’

Tsangyang Gyatso

Sixth Dalia Lama

It started out as an endeavor to boost Tina's spirits after her Sophie died this past Christmas day. Two kittens, Ziva Jane and Thabo Lama, litter mates. They were born on October 24th and joined our family in January. It turned into a kitten, Thabo Lama becoming something to me that I never imagined possible. Tina says I was Thabo's special human, and it is true. I became his special human in no short order.

Perhaps it was the time of year, cold, dark and lots of snow that helped the two us hunker down and forge this special relationship. Perhaps I was finally ready. I don't know. All I know is that I loved him dearly and he filled my days with joy. I love Ziva Jane too but she took to Tina like white on rice. We spent hours in the kitchen and every evening after TIna came home from work the four of us played and cuddled in bed. Tina would put them in their room every night around midnight and I would get them up at 5:00 am. We had long days filled with endless fun. I am grateful to have so many wonderful memories and photos of him and while this one is perhaps not the best, it does portray his character and his enthusiasm for human food. I have written about this little personality of his many times but here he is standing guard of the turkey I roasted. He kept this position for the better part of 6 hours staring at the oven while the turkey roasted and then watching it cool for at least 3 hours, without moving!

I always knew there was something not right about Thabo Lama. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but it went beyond his crazy clamoring for people food and his relentless medical problems that took us to the vet week after week after week. He stayed kitten like for way too long, both physically and developmentally. But it didn't matter, I was completely attached to him just as he was.

Thabo Lama was liberated to his rebirth during the early hours of this morning. I received some unforeseen Karma just before his passing. I spent Sunday evening surrounded by my Tibetan American friends at an event for The Venerable Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan Monk and freedom fighter who spent over 33 years tortured in chinese prison camps. It is only because I saw my friend Nancy that I was able to give Thabo Lama a fitting send off to his new life. Nancy reminded me that I had some Mani Pills which I had received directly from His Holiness The Dalai Lama. She told me I could use them for an easy, swift and auspicious rebirth and good health in his next life. It wasn't easy, but I felt so much better after giving Thabo Lama the Mani Pill and reciting Om Mani Padme Hum. I will be forever grateful for my connection with Nancy the night before Thabo Lama was liberated.

I am grateful too for my loving wife and partner who empowered me in my new found connection to this kitten. We would have never gotten these two kittens were it not for her. Patrick and Trudy, you will never know how much your support has meant to me in the past week. I am imbued with your kindness. So many others that have buoyed me this past week, Sherri, Helen, Kristen. . . And Paula for being with me this morning to help me tend to the logistics of Thabo's death.

We have donated Thabo to Dr. Greene and the University of Minnesota in the hope that he may help them better understand the rare condition of Feline Pituitary Dwarfism. In part because Tina and I are both academics, while Tina is the only practicing academic in our home I have been on the faculty of several colleges in the Twin Cities over the years, teaching nursing. We both value education and research and hope that Thabo Lama can further that endeavor.

We had a great team of people behind us, our breeder Lauri who never left our side and has extended herself way beyond reason, the folks at Grand Ave Vet who loved this little guy as well and especially Dr. Joe Greene, from the University of Minnesota, who was able to diagnose Thabo Lama in a matter of moments and guided us through the last two weeks of his life.

All of you are the best I am grateful to have you in my life and on our team, even if only for a moment.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I just want my kitchen cat back

Little Thabo Lama, I don't know exactly how he did it but this little guy got inside me, wicked deep inside and I am overcome with despair about him these days.

When he first arrived Thabo was full of spunk and had complete and utter enthusiasm for the kitchen. The two of us started logging hour after hour in the kitchen. He followed me from stove to fridge to counter, wherever I went, he followed. He was underfoot and in my business all my waking hours. I guess this is how I became his special human as Tina likes to say. Thabo sat on the counter watching my every move in the kitchen. He loved watching me cut vegetables, mix things in the vitamix, pop toast in the toaster. You name it, if it happened in the kitchen he was in. He seemed completely consumed with all things food, especially our food. It was a challenge from the start to get him to eat cat food. Thabo pulled popcorn right out of Tina's mouth, he monitored a turkey I was roasting for the better part of 9 hours, he dragged pizza off our plates, broke into a Tupperware of chocolate chip cookies, cracked open a carry out container with chocolate cake, tore through a bag of bread, the list goes on. This little guy was crazy for people food.

But Thabo hasn't been healthy from the get go, struggling with one health care issue after another and had what I would call failure to thrive. He just couldn't gain weight and in the past two months he has lost a full pound. Now that may not sound like much but when it is a quarter of your total body weight the mathematician would say it is significant. He started eating fabric, lost his interest in our food and stopped eating all together three weeks ago. He is sluggish, mentally dull and fading away. We are usually at the vet several times a week but starting three weeks ago we have been to our vet or the University of Minnesota Vet Center almost every other day. About 10 days ago he had a metabolic crisis and was hospitalized at the University. Looking back it was the best thing that could have happened, getting plugged into the University has taken us on a path of action that we just couldn't get at our own vet.

On Monday Thabo was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition I also have. Finally an answer and some medication. Still, I am guarded. I know it will take some time for the medication to kick in and for his thyroid to get in gear but in the mean time he continues to loose weight every day. I am trying my level best to syringe feed him, something neither of us like. I wait for some sign that he is coming back but so far nothing. The mental dullness is overwhelming. I just want to wake up and find him clamoring for something we are eating, clamoring for his diced chicken I roasted every day for him, eating something, anything on his own.

I just want to wake up and find my kitchen cat back in the kitchen with me!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cherry Basil Soda and a Challenging Kitten

Thabo Lama (silent h folks) might like cherries just as much as I do. I can't get anything done in the kitchen with this little guy around. He is into everything and he wants to eat anything other than his own kitten food. He grabs food right out of Tina's mouth, popcorn, chips, cake . . . He clamors for anything humans eat and turns his back on his own food. One day I roasted a turkey. Thabo sat at the foot of the oven for three hours while the turkey was in the oven and then guarded the turkey cooling in a window sill like it were his job.

All of this might seem quite amusing. I will admit it is a part of his personality that makes me laugh, watching him scamper across the counter every time I open the door of the fridge getting as close to the food source as possible. However his crazy eating habits went sour about a month ago when he started eating fabric including the crotch out three pairs of unders, a few pairs of socks, one of my favorite napkins and put bilateral holes in the arms of my P.J.'s. While it solved the "clothing on the floor around here" problem it was not amusing. Additionally he lost some weight while we were in Europe. We just can't seem to keep him past the 4 pound mark.

Back to the cherries. My friend Shauna posted a recipe for Cherry-Basil Soda a few days ago. Being completely obsessed with Cherries I made it immediately. Never mind it was the crack of dawn and I just happened to have a few pounds of fresh cherries in the fridge. I could hardly wait for the syrup to steep. When I passed the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer some of it landed on the counter. The challenge was on, who was going to get more licked up me, or Thabo. Once I got the syrup into a jar, Thabo stalked the jar and made endless attempts to get it open. It was funny and sad all at the same time.

The Cherry-Basil soda, pure bliss! Nothing could top this summer mocktail. The combination of cherry and basil is simply genius. Conceptually the recipe is a base for an endless source of mocktails. You can find the recipe at Sauna's blog: .

Back to little Thabo Lama. Thank goodness he is sweet as the day is long and I simply adore him. His food issues are challenging indeed. Just when we think we have made some progress we find ourselves taking a few steps back. Many have suggested just letting him eat what he wants. At one point even our vet considered this option. Cats need an essential amino acid called Taurine which can only be consumed in appropriate amounts in cat food or a supplement. Without enough Taurine Thabo would be prone to a host of serious medical conditions. So we considered a supplement which would mean cooking for him every darn day. However when our vet went to program his nutritional needs into the program provided by the supplier of the supplement they refused him. He was too small and vulnerable to meet the criteria for getting the supplement. Many have suggested we just keep him out of the kitchen, remove the triggers so to speak. We do put him away when we eat but I can't keep him contained all day. He lives in the kitchen, with me and that is that. I am not putting him away all day so I can cook without his trouble making. I like him too much.

Cheers to a challenging cat with some Cherry-Basil Soda!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lessons from the Fight of the Turquoise Bee Apiary

Year two of beekeeping is now well underway as are the lessons. These bees have so much to offer, not just the products of the hive but in their everyday lessons.

One of the many surprises of this journey for me has been the friendship of my beekeeping partner Paula. When the idea of keeping bees got inside me I didn’t know how physically demanding the work would be. As it turns out, I could not do this without Paula, physically or emotionally. I am thankful each and every day that Paula is on this journey with me. Our partnership is perfect in every way and perhaps for me, it is the lessons of the bees that have allowed me to collaborate in this endeavor.

I am a go at it alone kind-a-gal. I like to be in complete control of my every breath, especially at work. I am not a team player. I never liked group projects at school. In the kitchen, stay clear please. I don’t want anything other than my own efforts to impact the outcome of anything. I am not particularly proud of this characteristic but it is somewhat bittersweet. I am sure it is because of this dominating quality that I am so very successful at managing my Celiac disease. What other significant medical problem can you think of that an individual can actually completely control by what they put in their mouth. I love total control, being in charge of making the plan, executing the plan and getting the results, on my own, just my terms.

Enter the honeybee, or more specifically the colony where the collective efforts of all are completely interdependent. Without the collective work of the socialized colony, nothing would get done. Their engineering miracle is achieved by the collective work of thousands of bees. Building comb, collecting pollen, nectar, tending to the queen, nursing the larva, guarding the hive, all of it completely dependent on the work of the colony. No single bee or handful of bees could make this happen. They are in a constant state of communication with each other, directing forgers to the pollen, water and nectar sources through wing motions and dancing. The hive is made up of 30,000 or more bees, living and working together. There is overwhelming evidence of organization and harmony in the hive that one can hardly look past the lesson of democracy. Collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building, the honeybee has much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision-making. I think beekeeping should be a required hobby for all of our politicians! As for myself, I am watching and learning and I think I have become a slightly better colleague, paying more attention to those around me at work and pitching in when I might otherwise be serving my own purposes. It is a small step and I have a long way to go but these bees have taught me a great deal about working together. I am not saying I am ready for a group project yet but I am less about my own agenda, which is good.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wild Mushroom Ragout

Ah wild mushrooms, the quintessential spring ingredient, worth their weight in gold, literally! I wish I could afford to eat these exotic treats more often, but alas, on a regular basis they are not in my budget. For a special occasion, yes, I will indulge.

A few weeks ago we had company for dinner, company I wanted to impress so I pulled out all the stops, crab salad with steamed asparagus tips, grilled sirloin with tarragon butter, truffled mashed potatoes, wild mushroom ragout, and passion fruit tarts drizzled with blood orange sauce. It was an over the top menu and a wonderful meal. The wild mushroom ragout was the center piece! Visually stunning and a divine addition! The woody, earthy flavors of the mushrooms are intensified by being sautéed with fresh herbs and garlic. The recipe is adapted from the girl and the fig, my new favorite cookbook! Modifications included cutting way back on the oil and butter and meat fat called for in the original recipe and mixing up the assortment of mushrooms and herbs.

Wild Mushroom Ragout

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced pancetta
4 cups assorted wild mushrooms (I used Morels, Oyster, Chanterelles and Shiitake)
1 tablespoon each fresh chopped thyme, sage, parsley and tarragon
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon butter

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet and sauté the pancetta over low heat until crisp and golden brown. Add the mushrooms, herbs and garlic, cook until tender and golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the ban with the wine and reduce the liquid by half. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tina's Minnesota State Fair Pulled Turkey Sandwhich

Screw you Minnesota and your pathetic weather! I am sure I could find a better way to convey how I feel about Minnesota these days. If you don't live here you won't understand what we have been through these past 6 months and as I write, spring is passing us by. We have had nothing but cold, snow and more snow followed by cloudy, gloomy, windy rainy days. Today was the last straw especially when I heard this soaker that has planted itself over the Twin Cities might dole out snow tonight. Thank goodness we had a small window of sunshine yesterday so Paula, my beekeeping partner, and I could hive our bees. It was a beautiful day and we left the bee yard feeling completely energized and excited about the beekeeping season. The weather turned sour shortly after we got home. Fortunately Tina found a way to cheer us up and make us believe it were August, State Fair season. She found a recipe for a Minnesota State Fair favorite of hers, Pulled Turkey Sandwiches.

Our adventure started late in the afternoon, roasting a 12 pound turkey and by 9 pm, well past my bedtime, I finished pulling all the turkey off the carcass tossing it into a crock pot. Tina seasoned the meat, and a quart of my homemade chicken stock went in as well. I would have made turkey stock but we didn't have time. The turkey cooked in the crock pot all night. This morning Tina re-seasoned the meat and stuck it in the fridge while I went to check on the bees in a frigid windy downpour. I spent the rest of the day putting together the fixings for a good old fashion picnic, gussied up baked beans, napa cabbage salad, dilly cucumbers, pickles and watermelon. It might only be the end of April but we are having an indoor picnic tonight even if the rain won't stop. I've never had a Pulled Turkey Sandwich at the fair, after all I wouldn't waste calories on anything other than French Fries but this pulled turkey is darn good and quite easy to make. I enjoyed mine on a toasted Kinnikinnick gluten-free "english muffin" and had seconds with a little BBQ sauce.

Tina's Minnesota State Fair Pulled Turkey

1 roasted turkey, about 12 pounds
Lawry's Seasoning Salt
coarse ground pepper
garlic salt
turkey broth

Roast a turkey and cool long enough to handle, about an hour or so. Remove skin and pull meat off carcass, shredding it. Place all the meat into a crock pot and pour enough broth to cover the meat half way. Season with about a tablespoon or two of Lawry's, two teaspoons or so of coarse ground pepper and 2 teaspoons of garlic salt. The amount of seasonings is really up to you, more or less according to your taste. Cook the meat on low for 4-6 hours. Season again with Lawry's, pepper and garlic salt and put in the fridge for about half a day or more. Put meat back into the crock pot, cook on low for another 3-4 hours. Serve on buns.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

the girl & the fig, in disguise

Where to start? I guess I should come clean, I have an Internet friend. That's right, a friend I met on facebook. Her name is Katrina and she is sweet as the day is long! Katrina writes a wonderful blog which I have written about here before. We connected through her blog, we have never met in person. We are more like facebook pals, now engaged in a wild exchange of fun surprised for each other. It started as a way for me to lift her spirits after her husband took to the road for the year on the Broadway tour of Rock Of Ages. I periodically send fun, uplifting surprises for her, cooking equipment, unusual ingredients and what not, to keep her busy. I never expected she would respond with Skillet Bacon Spread, packages of gluten-free treats, a box full of cranberry treats, a fun lunch box and now this, the girl & the fig cookbook.

I have lusted after this restaurant for years, trying to scheme a way to visit Sonoma country and eat at the girl & the fig. This and Alice Waters . . . some day. When I left the house for my walk this morning I realized I had a day in front of me with nothing specific to do. When I got home, this package was sitting on the dining room table. I am not sure when it arrived, Tina must have brought it in and left it there. I literally gasped with surprise when I opened the package and found the girl and the fig cookbook. My day took shape over coffee and I selected a recipe, one that would take all day.

These Meyer Lemon Tartlets with Blood Orange Sauce are beautiful! I know they are good, even though I can't eat them, the lemon shortbread dough is not gluten-free I am sure it would be easy to make this with a gluten-free crust but today I wanted to make something for Tina's colleagues. But I can eat my weight in lemon curd, and this recipe did not disappoint! The Blood Orange Sauce gives the curd a twist and punches a second pucker like nobodies business! If you like tart you will like these! Unfortunately I can't post the recipe as I don't have copy rights, but trust me they would make a beautiful end to any spring meal or liven up the weekly Math department meeting!

As for Sonoma and the girl & the fig, I am going to get there someday! In the mean time I am looking forward to cooking from her cookbook! Thanks Katrina, you are the best!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mushroom Madness

I do like mushrooms and pastry crust so the combination of this spring tart really appealed to me. The problem is, I loathe eggs. The idea of taking this succulent mix of mushrooms and tossing them into a Gluten-free pastry tart and adding some eggs and cream, was almost too much for me. Once I had the mushrooms ready I just wanted to sit down and eat them and forget the tart altogether. I can't say I loved the tart like I loved the mushrooms but it was special and stylish, exactly what I was looking for as part of my vegetarian dinner Tuesday Evening.

I made my own Gluten-free tart shell, following a recipe from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. You will have to get their book if you want the recipe, I can't copy it here. It is a very nice, flaky pastry that won't disappoint. You could also get an ready made Gluten-free pie shell from Whole Foods, they are quite good.

Regardless these mushrooms are delish. I wouldn't hesitate to serve them as a stand alone side with a piece of grilled or roasted meat, atop crostini or lathered on a piece of toast.

Dried Porcini and Fresh mushroom tart

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup white wine or dry sherry
9 inch tart shell
1 tablespoon olive oil plus a teaspoon
1/2 pound white or brown mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 pound portabella mushrooms, gills removed, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 large white onion diced small
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons minced parsley and thyme
1 egg
2/3 cup cream

Preheat oven to 425. Prepare tart shell or pie shell and pre-bake
Put the porcini in a saucepan with the wine and half a cup of water, bring to a boil, turn off head, cover and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine strainer into a bowl and chop the mushrooms into smaller pieces. Reserve the soaking water.

Heat oil in a wide skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the onions start to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms. Raise heat to high, season with salt and pepper, tossing until they start to color, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and a few tablespoons of the mushroom-soaking liquid. Add the porcini and continue cooking, adding more mushroom liquid in small amounts until the mushrooms are tender and glazed about 15 minutes. Add half the herbs.

Scoop the mushrooms into your prepared tart pan or pie shell. Blead the egg with the cream and pour the custard over the mushrooms. Bake until the custard is set, about 30 minutes. When done, sprinkle with remaining herbs and dab some olive oil over the mushrooms to make them shine. Serve warm or at room temp.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My New Cookbook

I really try hard to not purchase new cookbooks! I have plenty already and we don't have shelf space. Besides, I am a mighty fine, creative cook with excellent resources. Considering how much is available on the Internet, it seems foolish to waste money buying cookbook after cookbook. I don't know about you but generally I find that a entire cookbook renders just a handful of recipes that I actually make. Eventually I make them so often I don't need the reference.

Recently we had Shabbat dinner at our friends Mara and Miryam's, two excellent cooks who totally get the Gluten-free issue. Their attention to detail arises out of their adherence to a strict Kosher diet and maintaining a Kosher kitchen. They are pros at calling food suppliers and asking questions about manufacturing practices, digging deeper into the ingredients listed on food labels and have an appreciation for cross contamination, safe utensils . . . I never worry about eating at their house, and I am always well cared for. That particular evening Mara made a broccoli dish with a mustard cream that literally made me swoon. You see I love mustard. Anyway, I am getting a little off track. Of course I wanted the recipe and Mara directed me to an online source providing the recipe which came from the one and only Deborah Madison. If you are vegetarian no doubt you know her, a total kitchen wizard. As I looked through some of her other recipes I decided I needed to actually see some of her cookbooks. I went off to Barnes and Nobel and came home with Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen.

Since Tina is out of town, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a vegetarian dinner over to Mara and Miryam's tonight. So I selected three different recipes from my new cookbook, all of them are worth a post! These stuffed peppers are colorful and flavorful. I hemmed and hawed about substituting gluten-free couscous for the quinoa, you see I am not a fan of quinoa. I stuck to the recipe as written as I am hopelessly trying to like quinoa. Couscous would be a great substitute no doubt but I found that I actually like the quinoa just fine. The tangy feta cheese is a real treat but leave it out if you want a dairy free dish! The original recipe is a great template for any number of variations, play around with it. Olives, black beans, tomato, all come to mind. This is somewhat labor intensive but they can be made ahead of time and heated at the last minute.

Peppers stuffed with quinoa, corn and feta cheese on a bed of red onions

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well several times (I used pale quinoa but thinking about it, red would be beautiful)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch scallions, including 2 inches of the greens, sliced on the diagonal into rounds
1 fresh jalapeno chili, finely diced (remove seeds if you don't want the dish too hot)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups or so of fresh corn from 2 ears of corn (you can use frozen but fresh is so much better)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 pound feta cheese, cut into small cubes
1 large red onions, sliced into rounds, about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup white wine
4 bell peppers
1/2 pound of spinach leaves

Bring two cups of water to a boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and then the quinoa. Give it a stir, cover and simmer over lowish heat until the grains are tender and water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Warm half the oil in a wide skillet. Add the scallions and chilies, cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, add garlic, cumin, corn and spinach along with 2 tablespoons water. When the spinach is wilted, add the cilantro, quinoa and feta, tossing everything together.

Heat remaining oil in a clean wide skillet. When hot, add the onions and saute, stirring until they start to color around the edges. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, season with salt and pepper and distribute the onions on the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the peppers.

Slice the peppers in half lengthwise without removing the stems, cut out the membranes and remove the seeds. Brush with oil, season with salt and pepper and grill over hot coals for 8 minutes, turning once. If you don't want to grill the peppers simmer them in salted water until tender to the touch of a knife but not overly soft, about 4 minutes.

Place the peppers cut side up in the baking dish with the onions. Fill them with the quinoa mixture.

Preheat the oven to 400, bake until heated through, about 15 minutes, then switch the oven heat to broil and brown the tops. Serve hot, warm or at room temp.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chickpeas with Chard and a Kitchen Kitten

We have a kitchen kitten. Actually we have two kittens but one of them is a kitchen rat like me. Thabo Lama and Ziva Jane joined us the end of January, not even a month after our little Sophie passed away. I have to say, I don't remember the kitten stage very well, it has been 12 years since we had a pair kittens running amuck in the house. Needless to say, we are in love and we are tired. Ziva Jane has come into her own, almost a cat, healthy, sleek and already she has carved out her spot as Alpha cat. Thabo Lama on the other hand is beyond lovable, and thank goodness for that because he has been a challenge.

The little guy loves food and stakes out his position in the kitchen when ever I am cooking. The only problem, he doesn't love his food. No, left to his own devices Thabo Lama would sit at the table, in a chair and eat what we are eating. He clamors for any thing Tina is eating, grabbing bites of popcorn, peanut butter and banana bread literally right out of her mouth. He makes a bee line for her morning oatmeal and just today he was crying over a pan of braised chard and chickpeas. He is crazy for people food.

We have struggled, daily for the past month to get him to eat. You see he lost about 8 ounces after he arrived and really gave us a scare. We spent two weeks making trips to the vet three times a week, then another two weeks going twice a week. He even spent three full days at the vet, getting hand fed and monitored to see if something more serious was going on. We seem to be on the other side of the scare, he has gained back all he lost and then some but not without some vigilance. Sometimes I wish we could just feed him a human diet and I will admit, it is somewhat amusing to watch him clamor for the things we eat. However, kittens need an essential amino acid called taurine, without it they go blind and develop serious cardiac and neurological problems. We don't need a blind kitten with an enlarged heart having seizures around here. There isn't anything other than cat food that will give Thabo Lama enough taurine. He can't afford bites of oatmeal here and there, or anything else for that matter.

So no Chickpeas and Chard for Thabo Lama but I assure you these are good.

Chickpeas and Chard

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, two sliced thin and two smashed
sea salt and ground pepper
1 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, more to taste
2 teaspoons tomato paste
two bunches chard leaves
1 can chickpeas, liquid reserved or 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Heat olive oil in wide, deep skillet. Brown the sliced garlic. Add onions and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, till soft. Meanwhile, pound the garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt, the cilantro, parsley, and cumin to make a rough paste. When the onions are golden and soft, ad the paste to the pan along with the tomato paste and work it into the onions and garlic.

Slice the chard leaves off their stems and put them in a pot filled with boiling water. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes, strain in a colander.

Add the chickpeas to the onions with their liquid, or a cup of chicken stock or vegetable stock, simmer about 10 minutes.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dang These are Good!

It's no secret, I love ethnic food and I love spicy! These Sichuan Green Beans are over the top. I paired them with coconut rice which is oh so simple to make and tempers the heat with a hint of sweet. I don't know about most of my GF possy but eating out at ethnic restaurants takes too much energy and research. I would rather reinvent the dishes at home. These beans, with their crinkled, chewy texture and intriguing spicy tang hit the note for me. I love the addition of the ground pork but if you want a vegetarian version substitute shitiake mushrooms.

Sichuan Green Beans

2 tablespoons gluten-free tamari sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more if you really like it hot
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
4 - 6 ounces ground pork
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
3 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Blanch green beans in boiling water for about 3 minutes, plunge in ice water and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together tamari sauce, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, white pepper, red pepper flakes, mustard and water until sugar dissolves; set aside.

Heat oil in a 12 inch nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the beans and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp and tender and skins are shriveled and blackened in spots, 5-8 minutes. Transfer beans to a plate.

Wipe skillet clean of any remaining oil. Reduce heat to medium-high and add pork. Cook until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, cook until fragrant, about a minute or two. Stir in sauce and return beans to skillet with the sauce, cook until thickened, several minutes. Remove form heat and toss in scallions and sesame oil. Serve over coconut rice, or not. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Macular Madness

I am on a mission. Improve our ocular health. You see, my mother-in-law, and her mother both have Macular Degeneration, a degenerative disease that destroys the central vision of the eye and is the leading cause of blindness in individuals over 60. It is also a hereditary condition which means Tina is at risk. I am a great believer in the power of taking one's health into your own hands, especially when there are specific things you can do to decrease risk. Interestingly, eye health is very connected to nutrition. Macular Degeneration, while it can not be prevented, can be tempered and the onset put off with the ingestion of certain nutrients. I am all for that, even if it means eating foods that I may not like.

So it turns out that lutein and zeaxanthin are the most powerful nutrients in treating or delaying the onset of Macular Degeneration and the American Optometry Association advocates taking both, daily. So of course I don't know anything about any of this. My expertise is the Gluten-Free diet, not the Macular diet. However, I am the most well resourced person on the earth so I turned to my trusty and generous friend Katrina, over at for some help. Katrina sent me links to helpful articles and lists of foods to focus on. That was the good news. The bad news, there wasn't much on the list that Tina likes.

I started by adding spinach leaves into Tina's sandwiches, next week I am adding toasted walnuts to her lunch for a Macular power snack. At home I am trying to include greens, corn, including popcorn (yes rich in lutein and zeaxanthin) and more pork and lamb in our diet. I love greens but they aren't Tina's favorite. So Katrina has been working on some recipes for greens that might pass the test for those with a fussy palate. Tonight I am making Katrina's Drunken Swiss Chard and Mushrooms ( I have to make a few adjustments as I got confused and got mustard greens instead of swiss chard. I think Katrina would not only agree but would approve. Greens are greens as long as they are green, leafy and organic, completely interchangeable. I am not that fussy about my produce and don't always buy organic but greens, they are different, they harbor very special organisms of the fecal sort and pesticides that I don't want in my house. Green are one of those Dirty Dozen.

You can find the recipe over at Katrina's blog, . While you are there look through all her wonderful, healthy recipes. I am going to use a combination of mustard greens, collards and kale. Tina is going to have sloppy joe's along with her greens and I am going to have sweet potato fries which I wish I could get her to eat as they pack a Macular boost like nothing else. Maybe down the road. Here's to our eyes!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Making Hoppin' Jane with The Gluten Free Gidget

I am faithful to just a handful of bloggers including Katrina who writes The Gluten Free Gidget at . I love Katrina's blog. She writes about fresh ingredients, interesting ingredients that intrigue me and she has the most positive attitude ever. Her theater background plays front and center in a well scripted narrative of a young, enthusiastic hard working fun loving employee, wife, sister, friend . . . just waiting for the next crazy moment to present itself. She is generous beyond measure and her recipes are to die for, especially this Hoppin' Jane I made last evening.

I am little more skeptical of certain new ingredients, including buckwheat which is a gluten-free grain that shows up in a lot of gluten-free recipes. The first time I had buckwheat I was visiting my brother in Virgina, another Celiac in our family. He took Tina and I to this hole in the wall street vendor that sold savory buckwheat crepes out of a shack with a window on the street. They were weird and wonderful at the same time. Tina has mastered these at home and every now and then we enjoy a savory buckwheat crepe for dinner. I can't say I crave the odd tasting grain but it works and it is fun to have Tina cook a gluten free dinner.

So when I read Katrina's recipe I was a bit put off by the addition of buckwheat, trying to figure out what I might use instead. Lots of ideas came to me including quinoa which I don't really like and brown or wild rice. After careful deliberation I decided to give the buckwheat a try, why not.

I threw the very easy to prep ingredients together with just a few modifications and within an hour I was eating a wonderful bowl of pipping hot Hoppin' Jane, savoring every bite. You can check out the recipe yourself over at Katrina's blog at .

Instead of green pepper I used a red pepper, just because I don't like red pepper. I also used a jar of black eyed peas I canned myself last fall, Katrina calls for frozen black eyed peas. If I made this dish again I would use the frozen peas for a couple of reasons. I over packed the jar of black eyed peas and by the time I was eating them in this dish they had been cooked three times and literally disappeared in the dish, they were the consistency of refried beans. My result also seemed a little dry, especially the collard greens. Using frozen peas might add more moisture. I might also dial back a little on the amount of buckwheat, to get a less bulky dish, or add more canned tomato. Regardless of my commentary, the dish was to die for. I loved the buckwheat and the flavor of the combination of herbs Katrina selected. This is an over the top vegan, low fat, and good for your macular health meal!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Roasted Chicken Chili

A few weeks ago I made some soup that was the result of wanting to get rid of recently roasted chicken so I could make some home made chicken stock with the bones. I finally got the confidence to make my own chicken stock, thanks to Shauna and Danny Ahern over at Gluten-Free Girl. Shauna and Danny made a video tutorial awhile back, showing step by step exactly how to make stock and ever since I hoard bones and vegetable peelings in my freezer like it were my job.

Back to my soup. It was early morning, by best ideas come out of the early morning hours. I actually had everything I need on hand. My partner was sitting at the dinning room table with her sister, working on her sister's new resume. I was puttering around the kitchen, dicing an onion, mincing garlic, opening a can of ROT*EL, cooking garbanzo beans and pulling roasted chicken off the bones from the previous night's left overs. I heard some talking coming from the dining room, "Wow, that smells good, what's cooking". I felt a little silly telling them I was making soup, after all it was about 9:00 am. A few minutes later I started gasping as I tasted the soup. "Oh my God, this is so good." I offered two small bowls, not wanting to give much away. The two of them sat at the table with small bowls of pipping hot roasted chicken chili, in complete agreement and dismayed that I simply created this soup out of nowhere. Well it wasn't exactly out of nowhere, I had recently enjoyed a bowl of soup at Bonfire that I really enjoyed and was simply trying to copy the recipe. Total success. This unusual version of chicken chili is to die for and a great way to use left over roasted chicken. Beware, it is so good that you are going to find yourself roasting a chicken just to make this soup which is exactly what I am doing again today after some pleading from Tina. This is a really versatile recipe! Use any kind of dried bean you like, add some chopped kale or spinach instead of corn. Heck, toss in anything that sounds good.

Cari's Roasted Chicken Chili

4 cups homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon of olive oil or so
1 small onion diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of corn
2 cups of garbanzo beans, cooked
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
3 ounces tomato paste
3-4 cups roasted chicken, shredded

Saute the onion and garlic in a scant amount of olive oil, a teaspoon or so. Add the oregano, salt and pepper and saute until translucent. Add the broth, ROT*EL, beans, corn, chicken and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer.

You could really dumb this down using a canned broth, canned beans and a store bought rotisserie chicken, turning it into a 15 minute prep. I prefer the effort of roasting my own chicken, making my own stock and cooking my own beans because I think it elevates the outcome. You will get a perfectly acceptable and delicious soup either way!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kale Chips

Dang these are good! Kale Chips seemed to be the rage of food bloggers last year. I'll admit, I was skeptical. I love greens, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, bok choy, Brussels, chard, sweet potato greens, kohlrabi greens, broccoli rabe. The endless list stops short at fenugreek, ick. I love all kinds of leafy greens steamed or sauteed in garlic. The idea of roasting greens into chips didn't quite compute.

My cousin Dina sent me a lovely Christmas package which included smoked sea salt from the Mendocino coast of California, a lovely hand crafted salt made from the pure ocean water off the Mendocino Coast. The harvest of sea water is simmered until delicate crystals of salt appear, then grow and sink to form a salt bed. The salt is raked, drained and layered into open evaporating pans. The sea smoked salt draws its distinctive taste and rich color by smoking the salt in a variety of coastal woods and sea vegetables. After a three day smoke the result is a sea salt that tasted like a bonfire on the beach. If you know me, you know I am crazy about the smell of a bonfire. I can't get enough smoke! I was stymied by the gift, so thoughtful and yet I wasn't sure what to do with such a delicacy. I remembered the blogging rage over Kale Chips and thought they would pair well together.

These are really simple, get a whole bunch of kale, clean it and get it really really dry. Toss the kale in some really good olive oil. I lucked out here because Dina also sent me a lovely bottle of Nelson Family Vineyards extra virgin olive oil from California. Sprinkle with Smoked Sea Salt. Spread the kale in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees, tossing occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until the the kale is crisp. Sprinkle with more Smoked Sea Salt, to taste and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eating Out

Eating out for me is bittersweet.

I am quite particular about where I eat and who makes my food, contacting chefs ahead of time, grilling the restaurant staff and even returning a meal littered with gluten, refusing to allow the kitchen to correct the meal. Serve me gluten in a restaurant, it's over, plain and simple, no second changes. I won't eat anything and I won't go back. Over time I have come to trust only a few spots and usually stick to those places that have a gluten-free menu. More and more places are getting gluten-free savvy, and well they should. When I go out I tote anywhere from 1-8 people with me. Were it not for the gluten-free menu, we would not be there. I understand it is difficult for restaurants, it requires training, retraining and maintaining strict practices in a kitchen to provide safe gluten-free meals. Restaurant owners shouldn't underestimate the economic power of the food allergy community! For more on this subject check out this article. Kudos to those of you who are willing to make the effort and go the extra mile.

Recently I read a restaurant review by Amy Legar over at If you haven't already discovered her blog, it is a must read for anyone with Celiac Disease. She posts very informative material on the disease, parenting a child with Celiac Disease, and helpful information on maintaining a gluten-free diet. Recently Amy wrote a post, Mad Jacks Gluten-Free Fare, reviewing a local spot that serves up good old American Bar food, noting that Mad Jack's had a dedicated fryer. A dedicated fryer means french fries. I AM IN!

A few nights later my partner and our friends Craig and Kristen, who are always up for a restaurant adventure headed out to Mad Jacks Sports Cafe, in Vadnais Heights, MN. Mad Jack's had something to make everyone happy, including flat screen T.V. in each booth so the football fans in the group could keep their eye on the playoff games taking place. It was warm, cozy and abuzz with business, a good sign.

We started with Szechuan Green Beans and some Spinach Artichoke dip served with crisp tortilla chips. The beans were to die for. I have really missed good spicy Szechuan beans. They were coated in a tangy spicy, almost Asian BBQ like sauce. I'd go back to Mad Jacks just for the beans. Everyone at the table ordered the french fries, just in case I didn't get enough with my Fish Sandwich. The fries were fantastic and of course there were plenty to go all around. My Tilapia sandwhich was wonderful, hand breaded and fried, served on lightly toasted Ener-G, gluten-free bread. It wasn't Udi's but it was really good, Ener-G probably being my second choice for a gluten-free bread. My partner got a Chicken Caesar with gluten-free croutons. It was just so so, but seriously who orders a salad at a sports bar.

The highlight of the evening, a Bucket of Sweet Potato Tots that my friend Kristen ordered. I am not sure I can adequately describe the delight of these delicious bites of fried sweet potato served with a sweet chipolte sour cream. They were sweet and savory at the same time. The bucket was huge, we couldn't finish them. I am going back to Mad Jacks, just for these! In fact, I am going back Friday evening to celebrate my birthday!

If you are gluten-free Mad Jacks is great, bar food at its best. It is festive spot, especially when there is a big televised sporting event and most importantly they take gluten-free diners seriously!