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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Uh, oh. It's Pot-Luck Picnic Time.

Pot-Luck. These two little words inspire a whole bunch of fear in the hearts (and bellies) of people with food allergies, as well as vegetarians. So – here’s my latest dilemma, and how I solved it:

We’ve (the family and I) have been invited to a graduation BBQ. My brother-in-law is graduating from Army Basic Training – and we’re going to the celebration! So, of course, they’ll have hot dogs, and burgers – both of which won’t work for my daughter (vegetarian), or me (allergic to soy, wheat). And the guests are supposed to bring a side to share. Okay, well, I know I’ll see the usual fare – mayo slobbered potatoes, and macaroni (neither of us will touch either – due to either allergies, or just outright fear of food poisoning -( think mayonnaise in 90 degree temperatures for several hours???) maybe some baked beans, chips, dips, etc.

What was I going to make? Fruit salad popped into mind at first, but woman cannot live on fruit alone. Then I remembered a great summer salad – Spicy Mexican Corn, and Black Beans! Perfect! Not only does it satisfy us both, but just about everyone loves it! So – into the cooler I’ll toss some salad, and then our side dish of Spicy Mexican Corn and Black Beans – and there we’ll have the perfect lunch. Certainly we may see some surprises, and then we’ll have to indulge, but I’m not counting on it.

(Recipe and photo to follow!)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Different Take on an Old Classic

So, Mr. B and I got into a discussion about (of all things), Shepards Pie. I voiced my dislike for the sloppy, mushy mess. He stated that while he's tried several varieties, they all were lacking. He said, "based upon the ingredients, you'd think I'd like it, but I don't know why, I just don't." I thought for a few minutes about why Mr. B, my meat and potato lover, wouldn't like it. Certainly, if ingredients were the issue, meaning whomever made the pie used boxed mashed potato instead of real mashed potato, that would be a good reason not to like it. But, while that would have a flavor difference, it wouldn't change that god awful texture - it reminds me of baby food. Perhaps that was what Mr. B didn't like as well?

So, in usual Substitute Chef fashion, I set out the change our opinion on Shepards Pie. I created a deconstructed Shepards Pie - I made meatballs (with ground lamb and chicken), pan gravy (with leeks), mashed potato and steamed peas with carrots. And it was a success!
So - In addition to the meat, I added 1 egg, gluten-free bread crumbs, and ground coriander. I know that coriander is not typical in Shepards Pie, but my gut told me to go with it, and so I did. It was an awesome addition to the lamb flavor. I browned the lamb/chicken meatballs in a pan on stove top with some olive oil. Then finished them off in the oven. For the pan gravy, I used the same pan that I made the meatballs in, sauteed my leeks, then added beef stock (making sure to scrape up those nice brown bits in the pan), added mushroom and thyme and rosemary. Then I made my mashed potatoes. Seriously, I don't understand why people make the terrible boxed mashed goop. Mashed potatoes are EASY! Boil water with potato peeled, cut into small chunks. Drain water, mash potato, add some butter, milk, salt, pepper and Voila! - mashed potatoes that are awesome and creamy!

So while I don't think either of us will ever eat a regular Shepards Pie, I know we'll be eating the newest Substitute Chef creation - the deconstructed Shepards Pie many times again.

Happy Allergy-Free Eating!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fast-food, Childhood Obesity, and Food Labels

With the Nation scrambling to find solutions to help end childhood obesity, with virtually no success, they’ve decided that making fast-food chains display the amount of calories contained in each of their menu items will end childhood obesity. ‘Their’ hope is that people will shy away, or cut down because of the visible information. I think not. People could find that information easily if they wished, but I believe you either know it already, or don’t. And if you don’t know the information, you don’t care to either. Take for instance, Mr. B. He was a fast-food junkie until we got together. Now, every so often, he still partakes. He knows full well what he’s doing, and he doesn’t care. It’s his choice, but he knows exactly what he’s consuming in calories as well as fats, cholesterol, etc.

My daughter is very versed on label reading. Both types of labels too, labels on foods, as well as the grocery store shelf labels that indicate price per unit. We actually had to teach one of my daughter’s best friends how to read the label, and it was a very enlightening experience for her. The friend arrived at our house happy as a clam because she was drinking a Fuze drink, and thereby claimed she was drinking a healthy fruit beverage. My daughter shot me a look. She then explained to her friend that the drink the friend was so in love with, wasn’t as good as she actually thought. My daughter had her friend look at the label. The first shock came when the friend realized the drink was less than 10% juice. Then we showed her how to read the calories. She wasn’t too upset when she read the initial calorie count, but my daughter, bearing a smug smile pointed out, “Okay, so how many servings are in that bottle?” That was when it all hit home to the friend. She was shocked that there were over two and a half servings – each over 100 calories, in just one bottle. From that day, the friend swore off Fuze.

So, here’s my solution to the childhood obesity problem – education. And I mean that in the traditional sense of the word. Most parents are not aware of the calorie intake for a normal adult, much-less a child. Add to that the fact that most adults find that there is not enough time to prepare healthy meals at home from scratch (or don’t know how to), which then equals the parents purchasing the ‘quick fix’, the easiest (and most unhealthy) route – the processed, prepared food stuffs offered in groceries, or at fast-food at a drive thru. Add to that the fact that most adults don’t eat anywhere near enough fruits and vegetables in a given day. Also, don’t forget children learn by what they see everyday! So, do you eat your veggies? Being obese also puts the children at risk for greater health concerns such as diabetes and heart attacks.

Here’s my point and suggestion on how to control childhood obesity. My simple, no nonsense plan is this Home Economics classes. Seriously, what ever happened to home-economics classes? Gone. Stricken from the school curriculum. I’m sure if you are at least my age, or older, you probably can recall sitting in a home-ec class sometime in your educational history. There, not only would you learn to boil water, and learn to cook meal, but you’d also learn to grocery shop within a budget, and learn how to eat a balanced diet. So, what ever happened to the old home-ec class? I guess ‘they’ felt that these types of things should be taught in the home. Guess ‘they’ were wrong though, since so many children and younger adults haven’t a clue. Sure, exercise plays a large part in losing weight, but you can run 10 miles a day, and if you’re eating nothing but empty calories, and an excessive amount to boot, there isn’t an exercise in the world that will help you! To lose weight you must have both, a proper diet, as well as exercise. My plan is simple – bring back the home economics classes into schools. Teach children how to live a healthy life!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Living (and eating) Gluten-free

This post was inspired by a friend who, after finding out I was allergic to wheat, made me homemade wheat (and soy) free brownies. Thanks LeAnne! She commented, "Wow, finding food you can eat must be hard! You have to watch everything you put into your mouth." I explained that it really wasn't that difficult, and well worth the effort since I feel much better.

While everyone's symptoms are different, here's what happens to me when I eat wheat:
I have a constant runny nose, with post nasal drip.
My fingers, toes and feet are swollen. (See picture below!)
I gain weight, and can't lose weight despite a diet and even a prescription from my doctor.
I have severe leg cramps (and sometimes muscle spasms in my back).
My energy levels are extremely low.
My finger nails are thin, brittle.
I have intestinal distress.

 Here's my hand after having eaten wheat. Notice on the second finger from the top (my ring finger) that you can see how my ring created deep lines on my finger and a swollen pocket just below the knuckle. All this from just eating wheat. Astounding.

All of these symptoms disappeared once I started eating a gluten-free diet. Why would I go back? Yes, it takes an extra effort to be sure what I'm eating is wheat (and soy) free, but I'd rather feel good!

I know most people are fearful of dietary changes. What you eat is usually habit, what you've been taught growing up, or what you came to learn to cook (or buy) as an adult. So, when it is suggested that you 'change your diet', most people freak out. Take Mr. B for instance, he's on a low cholesterol diet, suggested by his doctor. He was very upset, and confused about what he could and couldn't have. I knew, and could readily adapt. I moved us to a more vegetarian and fish based diet. But, he's also not a real fish fan, so that's where I had to do most of my work. I created many different fish recipes, and now he'll tell you that he actually likes fish. See, it's all in the preparation.

One tip for cooking fish - make certain it's fresh. Fish shouldn't smell fishy! If it does, don't buy it!

So - eating gluten-free is easier now than ever. There is a growing assortment of breads, mixes, cereals, pasta, and other baked goods available in your supermarket. And I can honestly say, there really isn't much difference in taste and texture. The texture is slightly off, but not by much, and the taste is spot on.

Restaurants present their own challenge. But here is my tip for eating out (when on a restricted diet):
'Have a list of things you CAN eat. DON'T focus on what you can't have!'
I know when I go into the restaurant, I look for these things (soy and wheat-free):
Fish, and meat (plain, grilled, baked or sometimes with sauce - depending on what sauce)
Rice, risoto, polenta, potato (these starches are easy to find and filling)
Vegetables (be careful here - some preparation methods will have soy or wheat - ask for it just plain if it's a question!)

Also, learn to ferret out restaurants that are easier on your food allergies.
For instance, Mexican is a better choice for gluten-free. Look for things made with corn tortilla's. Kudo's to Moe's Restaurant  - they have an allergy-free menu that is accurate. So if you don't feel like digging through a Mexican restaurant's menu, go to Moes! They've already done the hard part for you.
Chinese food is great for those looking to eat gluten-free, but in my case, since I'm also allergic to soy, it's a bit more complicated. I can still pull it off, but again, it means more 'can't have' than 'can'.
Italian restaurants are more challenging for the gluten-free diner. However, here is where you knowledge is essential. Look for polenta, or risoto. Both are gluten-free and a staple in the Italian menu.
Most restaurant's are willing to work with you, especially if you can ask a few pointed questions about a particular dish. If something in a menu piques your taste buds, but makes you leery of ingredients and preparation, just ask. I'm sure the chef will be happy to tell you what you need to know, and might be able to make a simple substitute to allow you to change your dish to your liking.

So, if you've been told that a gluten-free diet might help, or that you are allergic to wheat, don't fret. Go for it! Trust me, you have nothing to lose, but those old nasty symptoms making you feel ill in the first place. Your body, and taste buds will thank you for it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

To Brine, or Not to Brine. . . That is the Question

To Brine, or not to brine, that is the question. I’ve recently heard from several sources that brining (chicken, turkey) is the way to go. It is reported to produce a very juicy, flavorful bird. So, I did a little research, watched the how-to video on Rouxbe: http://rouxbe.com/cooking-school/lessons/245-how-to-brine

 Then with my recipe in hand, I created the brining liquid and brined our first ever, chicken. I used this basic recipe:
1 qt. water
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 garlic cloves
Black peppercorns

Doubled it, since I needed 2 qts. of water to completely cover my chicken, then heated until boiling, and the salt and sugar were incorporated. Then I let steep and then cool.

I brined my bird for 5 hours (recommended 1 hr. per lb.) removed from brine, then let dry in the fridge for 2 hours. From there, I pat the bird dry, added butter and some seasonings and tossed it into the oven.

All in all, I have to say we weren’t impressed. Mr. B, a big fan of chicken, has told me time and time again, that I have NEVER (in our 15 year together) made a dry chicken (not just baked, but ANY chicken or Turkey recipe I’ve cooked). For the baked chicken, I always used my grandmother’s recipe, and never gave it a second thought. But after having a brined, and what was supposed to be a very juicy bird, which was about the same tenderness, and juice that we get from my tried-n-true Grammy’s recipe (without all the fuss up front) I’ve vowed to never stray again. So, I bestow onto thee (you, the reader) my Grandmother’s Baked Chicken recipe. May you use it to enjoy your own juicy chicken (without all the fuss of brining!)

Grammy’s Baked Chicken Recipe

1 chicken (fryer or roaster – depends on the amount of meals served)
Butter, unsalted
Thyme (dried or fresh)
Sage (dried or fresh)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chicken stock or water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove chicken from package, making sure you remove the gizzards, neck, etc. Rinse in cold water and place into roasting pan. Pat dry with paper towel. Add ½ cup water or chicken stock to the bottom of the pan. Place 2 tablespoons (or more if desired) of butter onto the chicken breast. Add pinch of thyme, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Bake for approximately 30 min. per pound, or until the juices run clear and there is a nice brown crust on the poultry.

Yes, it’s simple. But Yes, it works! Try it, and you’ll see that your chicken comes out perfect every time. Also, the added stock/water in the bottom of the pan allows for an awesome pan gravy if you wish.

Happy, allergy-free eating!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Healthy Take on Pizza

Everyone that knows me, knows that I'm a pizza freak. I absolutely LOVE pizza - any pizza. So, when I found out that I was allergic to wheat, it kind of put a real crimp to my pizza loving ways. However, being The Substitute Chef, I wasn't going to let a little gluten stand between me and my beloved pizza. There are several pizza crusts in both premade, freezer form, and in flour (add water) type on the market.
Bob's Redmill makes a good mix, and I would recommend it.

So, I've already told you about my love for pizza, right? Well, I found a new pizza love when we were on a cruise a few years ago. It was a mushroom, garlic, goat cheese delight that both me and my daughter fell deeply in love with. We ate that pizza every single day when we were on the cruise. And were quite saddened when we came home, and couldn't have our new pizza passion.

I vowed to find a way to recreate that pizza! So, below you have my version of the pizza. I've added some greens, which gives it a healthy twist and a great taste!  Also, this is gluten-free (using a GF crust), egg-free, corn-free, vegetarian, and a great way to eat your greens and get the health benefits as well.

Garlic, Goat cheese, and Kale Pizza

1 pizza dough, rolled and ready (either premade or homemade)
½  package prewashed kale or chard (if not available – one bunch, washed, and finely chopped)
2 tablespoons of cream
Pinch of nutmeg
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1  5- ounce package of goat cheese, crumbled
 Pizza Stone

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place pizza stone in oven to preheat.

Heat a large skillet to medium high heat. Add olive oil and washed and chopped kale (or chard). Add in batches.  When wilted (about 10 minutes), add cream, nutmeg, and continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Set aside.

Roll pizza dough on floured surface. Place pizza dough onto stone and cook for 10 minutes. Remove dough and add cooked kale, then garlic, then crumbled goat cheese.

Carefully replace pizza onto stone and bake until cheese is slightly browned, and pizza dough has browned slightly as well.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Perfect Polenta

Last night I whipped up polenta (for the first time). I served it with steamed asparagus, and pan seared rainbow trout. Awesome eats!
So here's my recipe for the polenta - and in the vein of my theme, feel free to substitute the spices, cheese, etc. to suit your taste and accompanying foods.

Perfect Polenta
Serves 4
1 cup ground corn meal (I used Bob's Redmill - coarse ground)
5 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt

Dump 3 cups of water, salt, and corn meal into pot. Stir to incorporate the polenta and remove lumps. Heat on medium until it begins to simmer. Stir. Stir polenta every so often to make sure it doesn't stick. It will absorb the water and begin to thicken. Warm the remaining cups of water. In quarter cup amounts, add water to polenta and stir. Add water until polenta reaches desired thickness.

That is your basic polenta recipe. From there I added:
1 large shallot, 2 cloves garlic - chopped and sauteed in butter.
2 tablespoons butter
salt, pepper to taste
2 pinches of dried thyme
1 ounce goat cheese

Polenta is very healthy, gluten-free, and versatile. It would make a great base for a spicy meat with a good deal of sauce (like a stew).

Despite rumors of polenta being 'difficult' to cook, it proved to be very easy. It is time consuming, and benefits from slow, lengthy cooking. So while it isn't labor intensive, it does take quite some time to cook the perfect polenta!


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