Thanksgiving: The (upside) run-down

Yes this looks almost the same as last year, but why mess with what works?

 

Whenever you cook a giant meal, somethings got to give, and depending on what that something is, you either have a giant success, or a giant mess. Before I tell you what this year’s “something” was, I will say, this year was a giant success.

 

Worth every OCD-inducing minute.

 

Here are some things I learned this Thanksgiving:

 

When you have an old oven, you must be prepared to sit there and watch as your oven thermometer goes up and down with no rhyme or reason, or concordance with the actual temperature-dial.  This oven assumes you have nothing better to do.

 

Even if you cook several things beforehand, there will be an hour when you are absolutely nuts, when you can’t stand people coming into the kitchen, and when you are a bit of a terror. It’s the price of a good cook.

 

Gravy – good, from scratch gravy – is a bitch. For those who like to have a complex savory-yet-sweet flavor, it is a long road. Also, gravy never comes out the same every year. You may find yourself putting odd things into it, but it really doesn’t matter – it’s your secret.

 

Getting baked.

 

No matter how many pies you make, they will be gone very quickly – if not that night, the next morning. (We are all animals when it comes to homemade pie. Especially pecan. Damn.

 

And finally, some things that are completely wrong come out completely right. Case in point: this year, I cooked the turkey upside-down. I shall explain: My turkey came in a bag that was hard to see through (spices and such) and when I shoved it in the oven at 9 am I must have missed the fact that it was in fact, face-down (breast-down? whatever). I didn’t notice it was thus until, whilst carving, I wondered why there was no breast meat on my turkey.

 

Ha.

 

BUT – as it turns out, this works. Cooking the turkey upside down ensures that the dark meat is done and that the breast meat is very moist – perfectly so. All the juices go to the bottom of the bag and hang out in the white meat. My fellow diners suggested that I should make this mistake next year. Who knew?

 

This year, I am thankful that my mistakes turned out to be blessings, and I had people I love to share them with – even if those people drove me crazy, I am thankful that it’s always a good day.

 

Coming up: a pie you need to make.

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Spicy Homemade Tortilla Chips

2As a child, I shunned spicy things – I would put my dinner in the fridge for a few minutes before eating so it wouldn’t be hot. I even had a very strange habit of dunking Chinese food in a glass of water – what I was  thinking on that one even I don’t know. What can I say; I had quirks, and a very obliging mother.

But in recent years, I have begun to love spicy foods, and really, what’s not to love? For one, spicy foods contain capsicum, which helps fight pain and improves blood circulation. I also read a study that proves spicy foods help rev up your metabolism and promote calorie burning (of course, this only helps if you make healthy spicy food; taco bell is probably not your best bet).

However, shopping for spicy chips is not always so successful; they’re either full of fat, full of dairy, full of gluten, or have those mysterious “natural flavors,” and who the hell knows what those are?  My very favorite brand is tasty, but threatens the fit of my jeans.

Solution? Take matters into my own hands. It’s seriously simple: all you need is a bit of oil, corn tortillas, and seasonings – no deep fryer needed. You can control how much oil and salt is used, and by baking them they’re so much better.

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Spicy Homemade (and Baked!) Tortilla Chips

Makes about 3 servings (or one really big one)  

3 large corn tortillas (about 90 cals each)

1-2 teaspoons of vegetable oil,

or a few generous sprays of Pam

For spicy version: 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tablespoon seasoning blend of choice (or Costco’s Organic  No-Salt Seasoning), salt and pepper to taste.

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Mix oil and spices together in a large ziplock bag. Slice tortillas into triangles and throw into bag; shake bag until chips are evenly coated. Lay chips out on a baking sheet in a single layer, bake in a 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, until golden and not too soft in the middle.

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Eat!

Tips:

  • Three large corn tortillas will fill up a large baking sheet (I say 90-cal size because who knows what “large” could be).
  • If you want to use less oil you can lay the chips out, spray them  with oil, and sprinkle on seasoning.
  • For a non-spicy version, sprinkle oiled chips with salt and give them a squeeze of lime after baking.

Gluten-Free Blackberry Crisp

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It’s getting to that time in the summer when blackberries are not only ripe, they are so ripe that they threaten to melt in the hot sun. And there’s only one thing to do: pick them!

This is a great recipe that’s simple to make and has all the charm of a pie, without the hassle (or calories) of a crust. The oats and brown sugar also lend a lovely, crisp texture to the topping. The crisp is dairy-free and vegan, and can be easily adjusted depending on how many blackberries you have. And it’s fantastic over ice cream!

Enjoy the end of summer, my friends.

Gluten-Free Blackberry Crisp

*Adapted from the Cook Book*

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For Filling:

  • 8 cups fresh blackberries
  • 7 tablespoons granulated sugar, or sugar substitute
  • 5 tablespoons tapioca flour/starch (or other starchy gf flour)
  • squeeze of lemon

For Topping:

  • 1 cup gluten-free oats
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour/starch
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup butter substitute (one stick)
  • nutmeg and cinnamon to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

For fruit filling, stir in sugar, flour, spices, and lemon. Pour evenly into baking dish or pan. Most large baking dishes – anything larger than a pie pan – will work here; I used a 10 x 10 square pan. If you have a smaller amount of blackberries, say 5 cups, you can adjust the recipe, and a pie pan will work. photo 1

For topping, combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, and spices. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the nuts. Sprinkle topping over berries.

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Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until filling bubbles and topping is golden. For an extra-crispy topping, put under broiler for a few minutes.

Serve warm over ice cream, or cool in fridge overnight for a very tasty breakfast.

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A Tasty Thursday!

I have the habit of repeating food; once I find something I like I tend to eat it over and over until I get sick of it. Apparently doctors say this isn’t a good habit to have, since you may restrict your nutrients, but like many people I have my food-moods.

Example: for the past few months I have been on a salad kick, and before that I hadn’t made a salad at home in quite awhile. This particular salad was made without lettuce, since bagged lettuce usually has “taste” and I’m too lazy to wash my own lettuce – it always goes bad, what can I say? Instead I used cucumbers, carrots, green onions, and sometimes a bell pepper, dressed with a mixture of Bragg’s aminos, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar. (If you haven’t tired Bragg’s yet, do! It’s a great GF alternative to soy sauce and makes a great seasoning.)

But recently I’ve eaten some tasty things, and I thought I’d share some of my new favorites!

Trader Joe’s Hummus Salad Dressing

The past couple dressings I’ve tried have been complete losses, so color me happy to find this fantastic hummus dressing! It’s like the better version of thick hummus because it can go on salads and still work as a dip, with less chance of me eating the whole container in one sitting.

Amy’s Gluten-Free Lasagna

I was always a fan of Amy’s Dairy-Free Lasagna, but how happy am I they have a GF version now?! I stumbled upon this on a rare trip to Safeway (normally they have a very poor selection of GF foods), and I discovered they carry a large selection of Amy’s meals that are a little cheaper than my usual store. Who knew? And hey, it’s pretty good, and only 290 calories. Win.

Yoplait Go-Gurt

I know what you’re probably shaking your head at this, because Yoplait’s prime advertising directive (very “Borg” of them) is to encourage moms to put this in their kid’s lunch. But seriously folks, freeze them. It is the only way to ever get store-bought yogurt to turn into something resembling frozen yogurt from an ice-cream shop. Putting a whole 6 oz container in the freezer gives you a dairy rock; freezing a Go-Gurt tube makes for creamy, tasty frozen yogurt. Plus, it’s cheap and comes in kooky flavors.

Fresh Summer Fruit

The view inside my fruit cup

Ok, so this isn’t a “new” find, but this is the time for fruit. And this morning I had just about the best fruit cup I’ve ever had with actual fruit in it – you know, other than melon and half a strawberry. Plus my yard is on blackberry overload – no complaints here!

Salmon and Jicama Salad with Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette

Usually my school/work has rather limited food options, but their summer grill menu is quite lovely, and made outside to boot.  Fresh grilled salmon with almonds and honey-mustard? Good. Jicama? Good. Dressing? Good. Overall, Fantastic.

So, in the words of one of my Facebook friends, “Knock off this whole, ‘Make me jealous with food’ business.” Sorry folks, but sometimes I feel obligated to show how a gluten-free diet is anything but dull!

Gluten-Free, Salted Caramel Corn

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Is there anything that reminds us more of summer, state fairs, and going to the movies more than popcorn?

Even on a gluten-free diet, there is no reason to cut out this classic snack. Add homemade caramel and you have a match made in (gluten, dairy, and fat-free)heaven.

And with only three ingredients, it could not be simpler. There’s no butter, cream or water; you only need popcorn, sugar, and salt. And you can use this recipe for a basic dry caramel to make all kinds of sugar-coated treats: you can add peanuts in true Cracker Jack fashion, make clusters of nuts or festive popcorn balls, or even drizzle with chocolate for a super decadent dessert.

So here we go, don’t be scared; making a dry caramel was about the easiest thing I’ve ever done – and I’m no sugar artist.

Ingredients (see note below for possible measurements)

  • popcorn
  • white sugar
  • salt

Begin by popping your corn; the ideal, oil-free method is to use an air popper, but if you need to use the stovetop, so be it (personally I’ve never mastered the stovetop method without burning the corn). Bear in mind that oiled popcorn may need less salt.

If you’ve never made a dry caramel before (wet caramel being one where liquid is used) see the article How to Make the Perfect Caramel, by David Lebovitz. As a dry caramel, once it hardens it won’t remain chewy, rather it will harden like the sugar on top of crème brûlée, which is ideal here. And you don’t need that milk for flavor; browning the sugar gives it a much deeper and complex flavor than you might expect.

So, the basic idea is to take 1 cup of sugar spread evenly in a dry non-stick saucepan, and heat it over medium heat. The edges will begin to melt first, and once the bottom layer starts to gel you can mix it up with a silicone spatula, smoothing out any lumps (don’t over-mix). The sugar turns into caramel very quickly; in a few minutes the sugar will be melted and browning. The ideal color here will be a golden brown, like the color of brown sugar. Take care not to burn it!

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Once you have the desired color (sugar should be before or very close to the smoke-point) turn off the heat and add your popcorn into the pan, just like how you make rice-crispy treats. Sprinkle on salt; the more you use the closer you will get to kettle corn. Turn the corn with the spatula until almost all the caramel has stuck to the popcorn, and then pour onto a parchment or silpat-covered baking sheet.

2 Let cool slightly, then break up with spatula or hands. Store in a Ziploc bag. Sneak into movie theater for a fantastic popcorn treat without all the unnecessary fat and oil 🙂

4 A Note on Ratios: there are a couple measurements you can use here. In the first try, I popped 1/2 cup yellow corn (a large bowl) and melted 1 cup of sugar.

However, I had a bit of trouble getting all the corn mixed in the pan and had about 1/3 of the popcorn left. This resulted in a drier mixture in which not all the kernels where coated, more like kettle corn, which some of you may prefer, less like the above photo.

On the bottom of my baking sheet, this also happened:

1 A popcorn/brittle animal, perhaps?

But for those who want the kernels pretty coated (like the above photo), I suggest about a 3-1 ratio of popcorn to sugar. For the 1/3 left in the bowl I melted an additional cup of sugar and mixed the corn in; everything was pretty coated. Also, if you do use more sugar, a little more salt is needed to balance the flavor.

But whatever choice you make, it’s pretty hard to  go wrong, and you can always eat the “mistakes.” 🙂

Gluten-Free, Diner-Style Hash Browns

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I have been trying to master hash browns for ever. And if you just use shredded potatoes and a bit of oil, the odds are not good; they burn, they don’t stick together, and you end up with something that looks like a pile of crispy too-thin French fries.

But finally, I’ve figured out how to make the kind of hash browns you find in a restaurant; they stick together and form a delicious patty of moist potatoes with a crisp outside. They’re a lot like a potato pancake, really. And they’re gluten-free! Plus, with the egg in the recipe, you can basically just eat the whole recipe yourself for breakfast, and call it a day. Or a morning. Whatever 🙂

Crispy, Delicious Gluten-Free Hash Browns

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shredded potato
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 cup tapioca starch
  • oil for cooking

In a small bowl, combine potato and tapioca starch, toss with a fork until coated. Slightly beat the egg, and then add into the mixture. Mix until combined.

Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a skillet until right before it starts to smoke; you can use an oil spray (like Pam) but you will need to start with at least a tsp of regular oil to get the best crisp.

Add in hash browns, pat down into a circle with spatula. Cook each side for 5-6 minutes on med-high heat, but not so hot that the outside burns. For extra browning, add in a bit of butter or Earth Balance at the end.

And there you have it! Simple, tasty hash-browns that are thick, chewy, and delicious!

Product Review: Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bread

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Guess what, my gluten-free friends; there’s a new bread in town!  image

If you’ve read my previous posts about GF bread, you may remember that I was super-excited to find Udi’s – not to be confused with Rudi’s – but there is another option on the scene!

So, let’s review… (and read on for a coupon!)

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Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Date-Oat Cookies

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I have a confession: I love dates. Probably more than I should. But what’s not to like? They’re good for you, and one of the few items grown on a tree that tastes better than candy. Perfect for baking.

Now that the weather has finally started to warm up, you might be thinking that heating the house up for a cookie is not the best idea, but trust me, once you try them, you will.

This recipe does make for a pretty sweet cookie but the dates and oats make it a bit healthier. I also like to cut the butter in half by using either applesauce or mashed banana. I’m rather fond of using Splenda (though I know many of you are not) so I’ve also used half-sugar, half-Splenda in a few versions.

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Gluten-free Date-Oat Cookies

   If you are thinking there isn’t much flour in these, you’re right! It makes for a wonderful, moist cookie. Makes about 12; I always double the recipe.*

  • 3/4 cup flour: I used half brown rice, half sorghum
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance or butter-substitute, cut up -0r- 1/4 cup Earth Balance and 1/4 cup applesauce or a ripe mashed banana
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 gluten-free oats
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted-dates

DSCN6897Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Use a pastry cutter (or fork – it took me years to actually buy a cutter) to cut in the butter until batter resembles fine crumbs. If you’re substituting half of the butter, mix in the applesauce/banana now.

Add in the egg, mixing until just blended, Mix in the sugar, oats, and dates. Batter will be sticky and wet.

DSCN6903Drop tablespoons onto a parchment-covered baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on the baking sheet until cookies are firm enough to be transferred to a rack. As with most GF cookies, they can be delicate until cooled. Store in the fridge. Yum!DSCN6915

* Recipe adapted from Cookies:1001 Mouthwatering Recipes from Around the World. Not a GF or DF book, but full of amazing cookies ideas!

In Praise of a Sandwich: Some gluten free restaurants in Sonoma County

I don’t know about you, but when I find out that a great restaurant has gluten-free options, I get a little excited. Especially when those options aren’t just the omission of gluten, but the substitution.

And I’ve been noticing lately that more and more restaurants are offering items like gluten-free bread, pastries, and even soy sauce. So for my fellow residents of Sonoma County, here are a couple places we all can enjoy! (Note: these places do serve gluten-products, so for those who are sensitive to traces or who have Celiacs, take usual caution.)

Jennie Low’s Chinese Cuisine, Petaluma

http://www.jennielow.com/

image Photo Source

The only local Chinese restaurant I’ve found that will make basically any dish with GF soy sauce, and I swear you can’t tell the difference. They will also steam or stir-fry dishes without oil, which makes it healthy!

Aqus Cafe, Petaluma

http://www.aquscafe.com/main/index.php

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They offer GF bread with any order, and also have pretty awesome vegetarian and vegan options. And dude, look at this Turkey Club (thick bacon.)

Redwood Cafe, Cotati

www.redwoodcafecotati.com/

image Photo Source

I’ve been going to this place for over 20 years, and it’s a great, casual staple for all-day eating. They have GF options and have recently started offering GF bread! Burger, anyone?

Sift Cupcake and Dessert Bar, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Napa

www.siftcupcakes.com

image Photo Source

The ladies here recently won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, which means: it’s gooood. On Wednesdays they have GF “make your own” cupcakes where you can choose the cake and the icing flavor, and they carry macaroons every day, which are always GF. And unlike some GF cupcakes I’ve had, they aren’t overly-dense; they have a nice, light texture.

Avatars Punjabi Burritos, Petaluma, Mill Valley

www.enjoyavatars.com

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What I love about these folks? They will customize your meal to be GF, Dairy-free, vegan, whatever – and they enjoy doing so!

Slice of Life, Sebastopol

thesliceoflife.com

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Photo Source

Continually voted best natural food, vegan, vegetarian restaurant in the Bay area, Slice of Life has many GF options. Though they don’t offer GF bread or pasta (why not, I’m not sure) they have simple dishes like brown rice and vegetables, and also make pizza with a GF cornmeal crust. They have great salads and Fat-Free French fries. Yum.

Velasco’s Mexican Restaurant, Petaluma

www.velascosrestaurant.com

image Photo Source

This is one of my favorite Mexican places in town; it’s not expensive, has amazing chips and salsa, and many GF dishes. I love their grilled white fish, fish tacos, and flank steak. They put this little cabbage salad as a garnish, which is super tasty.

So it’s safe to say that there are many GF dining options out there.

Do you have a favorite GF restaurant or bakery in the Bay area? Let me know!

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Rice Krispie Treats

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It is a common misconception that rice-crispy treats are gluten-free; the truth is, most are contaminated. With malt. Sadness.

[I shall now refrain from ranting about companies who use unnecessary gluten ingredients…]

In the past, I used to view rice-crispy squares as the one gluten-free haven that could be found at almost any coffee shop. Now, while there are some kinds of rice cereal out there, there is usually no way to tell which is which, since most places do not list ingredients or allergens in their cases [another potential rant…]. imageHowever, there is good news: Kellogg’s is actually coming out with a gluten-free cereal variety made with brown rice in June! But until then, we can adapt Kellogg’s classic recipe found here.

But recently, a party called for a batch of rice crispy squares, and thankfully my local grocery store carried a GF rice cereal in bulk. So without further ado…

Gluten-Free Rice Crispy Squares

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Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread or Sticks
  • 1 10 oz package regular-size marshmallows
  • 6 cups rice cereal
  • chocolate for topping, if desired

In a large saucepan, melt Earth Balance over low heat. Add marshmallows, stirring until completely melted. A non-stick spatula works wonders here; you can use it to mash down the lumps. The mixture should be completely melted to the point that it’s shiny and easy to stir around without sticking too much.

DSCN6960 Add half of cereal into pan, mix in slightly, and add rest. (This helps ensure the rice cereal is evenly distributed into the marshmallow mixture.)

Transfer mixture into greased 9 x 13 pan. Smooth out with spatula (spray spatula with cooking oil if it sticks too much) an add any desired topping.

DSCN6964 I usually desire chocolate, so… Mmmhmmm.

DSCN6970 All that’s left to do is to cut when cool. Store in airtight container for 2-3 days, or freeze within sheets of parchment paper.

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Tips:

  • DO NOT stick on paper towels. I did, and spent forever trying to peel off the layers of paper stuck to the squares. Not so fun.
  • Gluten-free rice cereal can be a little crunchier and more substantial than the transitional Rice Krispies, so they may seem firmer. You can remedy this by microwaving squares for 10-15 seconds (watch carefully) or by adding a little more marshmallow.

And if you try Kellogg’s new brown rice cereal, let me know!

P.S.

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