Monday, December 29, 2008

I Never Met a Potato My Boyfriend Didn't Like.... Or, (I Love) Latkes and Favorite Potato Kugel

In the past few weeks, I've made latkes and potato kugel. I've made a you-couldn't-tell-it's-gluten-free (and lower fat!) macaroni & cheese. I had an awesome dinner at Luchita's Mexican Restaurant. I've made two batches of everyone's favorite flourless peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. I've made a mixed berry pie. And I've taken pictures of it all. But for the past few weeks, my poor little blog has lain dormant and my food adventures have gone entirely unrecorded. Why? Four annoying little words: I. Have. A. Hernia. 

Seriously? A 22 year old girl with a hernia? I mean, if I was a champion weightlifter rather than an amature baker that might make some sense. Heck, I suppose I could've gotten a cooking related injury, if I was lifting some 50 lbs sack of (tapioca) flour, then at least there'd be a reason for this madness, but no such luck. Regardless of it's origin,  my mysterious hernia has left me somewhat bed bound, in serious pain, and much too frustrated to write about the joys of naturally gluten free Jewish cuisine or the difficulties of no bake fruit pies. 

But I'm sick of thinking about my hernia and you're not here for my gluten-free griping (I mention it simply for the "sorry I haven't updated in so long!" pity points), so on the good stuff, the food. 

I'd promised gluten-free Hanukkah recipes in time for the holiday and despite the leeway the lunar calendar provides, I missed my deadline. Sure, it's not technically Hanukkah anymore, but maybe you'd looking to extend your holiday to round nine days? Complete with a latke lunch? (Work with me people...)  And if you're questioning whether or not potato pancakes are midday food, I ask you to really question whether there's a time that you wouldn't eat a crispy, crunchy latke. Dig deep, be honest, you know there isn't. 

Despite my lack of timeliness as far as writing goes, I did make latkes on the Hanukkah's first night. 

 "So what....its fried potatoes and onions? What's the difference between the latke things and hash browns?"  my skeptical boyfriend asked. I couldn't quite answer the question. I mean...they're latkes, what more is there to say? Unable to verbally explain the difference between something that comes in an Ore-Ida bag in a local grocer's freezer case and a fried potato cake with 5770+ years of history behind it, I realized I'd just have to show him. Drat, latkes for us both. 

Though I generally use my dad's latke recipe, I googled latkes until I found a tempting looking version over at NYCnosh.com. Most recipes are basically the same potato-onion-egg-matzo meal mix, but this recipe was a departure from my father's in that 1) it subtracted an egg (my dad tends to use 3) and 2) you hand grate one half of the potatoes while pureeing the other half (contrary to convention, I grew up on latkes made solely of pureed potatoes and was pretty confused by the more popular grated potato cousin popular at delis the first time I saw them). 

I, of course, had to sub in all purpose GF flour mix for that traditional, Jewish matzo meal, but I changed nothing else - I mean, this recipe was offered up by New York Jews and was
 touted as mind blowing. Mind blowing. I mean, who knows Jewish food better than New Yorkers? No one, that's who. 

So latkes I made, and latkes we enjoyed - me with traditional low fat sour cream and cinnamon applesauce, him with a goyish topping I promised not to name. And how did the boyfriend like his introduction to Hanukkah food? "It's fried potatoes and onions, what's not to love?!" But upon asking if it tasted like hash browns, he answered a correct "definitely not". Well good, there may be hope for him yet. 

Having a little batter left over, and being too tired stand over the stove flipping and frying, the next night I baked the remaining mixture in a thin casserole pan and introduced my boyfriend to potato kugel. To my surprise, he liked it even better than the latkes, adding that if we kept eating like this, he'd be a Jewish convert in no time. A few days later, we were craving a home cooked meal and still had half a bag of potatoes left. I decided to try out the whole recipe as a kugel and I'm amazed to say that this produces the best potato kugel I've ever had. (Sorry Dad). 

(I Love) Latkes ...or Favorite Potato Kugel 
adapted from nycnosh.com

2.5 lbs of potatoes  (4 medium potatoes or about 8 smallish potatoes) 
1 large white onion
2 eggs
1.5 - 2 tablespoons of GF flour mix 
1/2 teaspoon of salt 
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1/4 teaspoon of paprika (for kugel, though you could use it in the latkes)
 
vegetable oil for frying latkes (no olive oil please!!)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (for kugel only)
baking spray 

Peel potatoes. Cut half of the potatoes in to 1 inch chunks and boil for 20 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, grate the remaining potatoes and the onion in to a medium sized bowl. This mixture will be extremely soggy and you'll need to drain it as much as possible. I recommend straining it in a colander while pressing it down with paper towels. You may loose a few shreds of potato, but don't worry about it. If you have one, NYCnosh recommends placing the shredded vegetables in a cheesecloth and wringing it out (I don't think I know anyone who actually has a cheesecloth in their kitchen, but this sounds far easier than my strainer method, so perhaps its not a bad investment). Return the shredded onion/potato to a dry bowl.

Beat the two eggs in a separate bowl and mix them into the shredded vegetables. Stir in the spices as well. 

Drain the cooked potatoes and puree them in a blender or food processor. Sprinkle the mixture with the flour. Finally mix the puree into the shredded vegetables to complete your latke batter / kugel base. 

For The Latkes....
Cover your largest frying pan with vegetable oil,  1/4th to 1/2th inch thick (Oy! The oil! I know!). Grab a handful of your batter and make a palm sized patty about 3/4 of an inch thick. Gently - and carefully! - slide the patty into the oil and repeat until pan is filled. Cook for 5 -7 minutes on each side, flipping with a spatula and a fork, so as to prevent as much break
age as possible. 

When both sides have evenly cooked, place latkes on a plate covered in paper towels to drain the oil from them (patting the tops will also be necessary). Serve with applesauce, sour cream, or other favored topping. 

Latke Notes
* If your latkes are browning too quickly - 2 minutes or so on the first side - your oil is too hot. If your latkes seem like they're taking forever to cook, you'll need to turn up the heat. 
* Since you're using GF flour, the latkes are a little more fragile, so be careful when flipping them and make sure they're fully cooked before turning. 
* I didn't have any on hand, but a 1/4 teaspoon of xanthum gum may aid in firming the latkes up. 

For the kugel...
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 inch casserole dish with GF baking s
pray / canola oil (again, NOT olive oil). Pour kugel into the dish and bake for 45 minutes. 

At this point, the kugel will start getting crispy around the edges, but will still be quite white on top. Spray the stop of the kugel with the baking spray / canola oil and bake for an additional 20 -30 minutes, or until the top browns (looks crispy). 

Serve squares along side apple sauce, sour cream, or on it own. Enjoy! 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I La La Love Luchita's

(I know it's been a long while since I updated - I have an excuse! I've been sick! And I wrote it all up plus a long discussion of latkes and kugel only to find all of my pictures of my delicious Jewish potato goodness were on my boyfriend's camera, left in Michigan. So until I can get them, my explanation, and my latkes, will have to wait. Till then, please enjoy this offering...)

Do you remember the first time you went to a restaurant after your diagnosis? 

You scanned the menu, mentally ticking off the items, Can't eat that. Can't eat that.  Can't eat that. And the few menu items that may have been a possibility? Well, you were pretty sure they either had hidden gluten in them or that the restaurant staff would probably screw up and put croutons in your salad or lie to you about thickening their soup with flour. You told the waiter about your food allergy 500 times before ordering, asked to speak to the manager, double checked that the kitchen knew how very serious your gluten intolerance was when the now annoyed waiter placed your iceberg lettuce salad and boiled potato in front of you ...and then didn't eat any of it because you saw a speck of "might be gluten, might be pepper" on your plate. 

While that might be an extreme example, the first few times you eat out, it's like walking into a gluten minefield. 

I guess that's why I was so surprised when I went to Luchita's last week and almost forgot to tell them about my gluten issue. That's right, I've become so comfortable eating there, I practically assumed I was going to be safe. Of course, I double checked with the waitress if my favorite dish - the vegetarian enchiladas, stuffed with potatoes, spinach, and cheese and covered in a green sauce - was still made with gluten free, all corn tortillas (and yes, it was), but its a good feeling to be so secure at a restaurant that I knew I'd be as safe as if I'd ordered that iceberg lettuce standby. 

Luchita's has a pretty sizable menu, with three or four dishes they're happy to provide vegetarian versions of. Of course, if you eat meat, the menu opens up a great deal more to you as it does at most any restaurant. But if you steer clear of typical gluten strong holds - the floury tortillas of quesadillas come to mind - you're pretty sure to be safe with almost any dish you choose. As you should before ordering anything, you should always ask your server just what is in the food - and on that note, I've always food the waiters and waitresses at Luchita's more than happy to double check with the cooks on anything they weren't sure about. 

Luchita's has four locations - three on the Westside and one in Cleveland. Us Eastsiders used to have a Luchita's at Shaker Square, but it closed its doors earlier this year (as did most places at Shaker Square, but that's a whole other topic for another time). While it might be a bit of a hike (or a schlep, depending on just what part of the Eastside your on), it's well worth it. Authentic Mexican food at it's best, that is, the kind that's naturally gluten free. 


Luchita's Mexican on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thanksgiving Plate & A Call for Hanukkah Recipes!

Look at that plate of food. 

All gluten free. 

All vegetarian. 

All insanely yummy. 

Were smack in the middle of the Holiday season, with Thanksgiving just a few weeks back and Hanukkah and Christmas on our heels. It's times like these I'm pretty darn thankful that my particular holiday has symbolic food that converts easily to gluten free (you can make a good latke with out matzo meal, I promise, but more on that later), but as for the rest of the days, well rarely is there a time when we're more noticeable for our gluten free fare. 

But that plate, it doesn't look gluten free, it just looks delicious. 

And I'm bound and determined to recreate gluten free holiday goodness for my boyfriend's family's Christmas Eve dinner. I'm not sure what my main dish is going to be (and I'm open for suggestions!) but I have a feeling a pecan pie is in everyones' future...

So I offer up this, my thanksgiving plate full of food, as inspiration for holiday meal menus, yours and mine. 

On the plate: 
Apple -Raisin Stuffing (with Whole Food GF breadcrumbs, adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe) 
Whole Foods GF canned cranberry sauce
Twice Baked Potatoes (My dad's holiday staple. He claims the secret is to bake/microwave the potatoes, scoop out the inside and then throw those away. Then you boil the insides of a separate set of potatoes for the mashed filling.) 
Gluten Free Green Bean Casserole (Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe. However, I used Imagines GF cream of mushroom soup and didn't make my own fried onions for the top, using crumbled potato chips instead. Honestly, it was SO good...the next day. This is a dish that needs a few hours to marinate.) 

Garlic Sweet Potatoes 

4 large sweet potatoes
3 -4 cloves of garlic minced / crushed
3 tablespoons Smart Balance vegetable oil butter (or butter)
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons garlic powder

Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and boil until soft (about 10 minutes). In a large bowl, mash the sweet potatoes and add the butter, garlic, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add more garlic if needed. It really is that easy. 

Oooh, was that a Thanksgiving meal to remember! In fact, I've been so full since then, only recently have I been able to button my pants and sit down to write about it. Well, that's an exaggeration, mostly. 

A final note, as I prep for my Christmas Eve dinner, I can't help but think about Hanukkah. Something tells me I'm not the only one; I've been fielding some emails about gluten free latke goodness and I couldn't be happier for it. 

Since Hanukkah is so close to Christmas, I'll be celebrating it at my boyfriend's too. Since it's his first Hanukkah, I've got to make a meal to remember so I'm pooling my knowledge and asking all of you. So gluten free bloggers and readers, have you got any great Hanukkah recipes? Any favorite nontraditional latkes? Other Hanukkah treats you can't get enough of? A preferred applesauce? 

I'll be posting a Hanukkah recipe roundup come December 23rd (the second actual day of Hanukkah, giving you all enough time to cook and capture your treats). So get cracking, get experimenting, and get eating! :) 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gluten Free PSA #7: Winter / Spring Celiac Events, the GCCA Cookie Exchange...and Chewy Cherry Chocolate Bark

Last weekend, I went to the Greater Cleveland Celiac Association's (GCCA) meeting and cookie exchange. 

Actually, let me amend that. Last weekend, I attempted homemade butterscotch for cashew cookies in a kitchen that was not my own - and thus, not gluten free friendly - discovered homemade butterscotch is not as easy as it looks, threw away aforementioned terrible cookies (they were at once crumbly and paper thin, as only failed a gluten free can be).  I crossed my fingers and whipped up an on-the-fly batch of surprisingly delicious Chewy Cherry Chocolate Bark, THEN drove 3 hours from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Parma, Ohio to go to the Greater Cleveland Celiac Association's meeting and cookie exchange. 

The things I do for a little gluten-free education. 
(Okay, the cookies might've had something to do with it, too.)

Gluten-free baked goods aside (and who ever thought a celiac would say that), the GCCA's meeting was pretty cool. Having no friends or close family with the disease, I still find it amazing to be in a room filled with people who can differentiate between potato flour and potato starch and know the invaluable, mythical power of xanthum gum. 

The meeting was well attended, from those just diagnosed to those who've lived gluten free for nearly two decades. Equally cool was the attendance of non-celiac spouses and parents, not only supportive of their celiac loved ones, but also wanting some gluten-free baked goods! 

The meeting covered everything from favorite baking tips and books, to restaurants that were particularly accommodating to special food requests,  to reminding everyone that Kraft (and anything under the Kraft family umbrella) has agreed to disclose any gluten containing ingredient. This means if no offending mention of wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc is mentioned, the product is gluten free. This includes modified food starch (which, if derived of wheat would be listed as modified food starch (wheat) or the like). 

If you're bummed about missing out on the food and the fun, worry not! The GCCA has its meeting for the next six months planned out already - these people are more organized with gluten-free meetings than I've ever been with my life! With so much notice, how can you not pencil one in? If that's not enough gluten free goodness for you, maybe some of these other events will suit your fancy. 

Winter & Spring 2008/2009's Gluten-Free Events 

***Sunday, December 14th - yet another gluten free cookie exchange. This one is in Akron, Ohio at the Akron Children's Hospital from 2-4pm and it is hosted by the Akron Celiac Support Group.  I have to admit, I'm a bit cookie-ed out, folks, and Akron is a trek from my side of town, but you can find more information on it at the NEOceliac's page

January 11th: GCCA meeting in Solon. This meeting's theme is bread, so come with a loaf of your favorite (home baked) gluten free bread, sweet bread, or cornbread. 

January 15: The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking begins its series of 3 gluten free workshops with a gluten free dinner at Sapore Restaurant. Please click here for details on all classes. 

February 8th: GCCA meeting in Solon. This meeting's theme will be soup. 

February TBA: The NEOCSG will be having a cupcake decorating party, date TBA 

March 4th & 11th: The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking offers classes on gluten free cookies! 

March 15th: GCCA meets in Parma

April 13th: The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking hosts a class in gluten free pasta making...wow! 

April 26th: the GCCA meets in Solon

Both the May 17th and the June 14th GCCA meetings will be in Parma. 

Chewy Cherry Chocolate Bark
...and on to the good stuff. 

Sometimes, kitchen experiments end in disaster. Sometimes, simple food is simply boring. And sometimes, a little experimenting with long favored ingredients pays off. I'll let my recipe and pictures speak for themselves. 

2 packages semi-sweet Baker’s chocolate
1 1/3 cup dried cherries
1 cup salted cashew pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 - 2 teaspoon(s) cinnamon (as desired)

Cover a large cookie sheet with wax paper.

Place chocolate squares in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, remove, and stir. Microwave for an additional 45 seconds before taking out at stirring again. Microwave in additional spurts of 10 seconds, if needed.

Mix cherries, cashews, vanilla, and cinnamon into the melted chocolate. Spread the mixture over the wax paper. Refrigerate at least an hour – until the chocolate becomes hard. Break into pieces and store in the refrigerator.

*Note: For prettier bark, once it's spread out on the wax paper, sprinkle the top of the still hot chocolate mixture with extra dried cherries and cashews (or reserve 1/4 cup of each to sprinkle on top). Press the top layer in slightly to help it set. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dessert Always Comes Before Dinner - GCCA Cookie Exchange & Pumpkin Merinuge Pie

You know that saying March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb? 

December, with it's powdery white snow and powdery white sugar needs a saying of it's own. So far, December has come in like a sugar rush... and, well,  at this rate it's going to go out like a like a sugar rush, too. 

Am I not making any sense? Maybe that's because I had just barely recovered from my sugar coma of last week's NEOCSG Holiday Cookie Exchange when I got the email for the Greater Cleveland Celiac Association's (GCCA) December meeting and Holiday Cookie Exchange. It's this Sunday, December 7th, at 2 pm at the Parma Community Hospital. 

Here's the info, straight from the email: 

How does the Cookie Exchange work you ask?

1. Bring a minimum of 2-4 dozen gluten free cookies that you have baked or candies that you have created. Bring as many cookies you choose (… the more you bring the more you take home!)

2. Place your cookies in Ziploc or Glad sandwich bags-2-6 cookies/candies per bag (depending on size)

3. Bring about 2-3 dozen copies of the recipe **Please put your name on the recipe in case people have questions**

4. An extra container will be needed to place your new cookie collection in.

5. The number of people participating determines how many of each cookie you can take home with you.

6. Take cookies home to share, to eat, or to freeze for later enjoyment!

E-Mail Cindy with any questions: glutenfree1@yahoo.com and to RSVP - and especially if you plan on participating! 

Now, I'm not one to play favorites when it comes to cookies, or events,  so I plan on being there, Tupperware of new gluten free cookies in hand. Looks like it's back to the cookie drawing board...

But there's still more on plate, as it were (har, har). It's been a whole week and I still haven't done a wrap up of my Thanksgiving. I don't know about you, but frankly, I'm a little Thanksgiving fooded out. So I'm getting to it in steps - and what's better first step than the last one? 

Pumpkin Meringue Pie 

recipe mildly adapted from the can of sweetened condensed milk - which amusingly enough, is the same recipe that appears on the can of Libby's Canned Pumpkin, only replacing evaporated milk and sugar with sweetened condense milk. ...it seems while there might not be no one way to make a pumpkin pie, there certainly is a right way...

the meringue recipe comes from Food and Wine Magazine's Pumpkin Meringue Pie

1 can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie)
1 can fat free sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
2 large eggs
1 - 2 tablespoons of amaretto liquor (which apparently finds its way into all of my pies) 

1 GF pie crust
I used a premade Whole Foods' one to cut down on my cooking time I've also had great success with Gluten Free Pantry when I made my apple pie

4 large egg whites 
(or the equivalent of 4 liquid egg whites)
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of water 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Combine pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, amaretto, salt, and spices in a bowl.  Pour into pie crust. Bake pie at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn temperature down to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 45 - 50 minutes, or until a knife poked into the center of the pie comes out clean. Take pie out of the oven and let it cool for at least 2 hours, if not overnight. 

For the meringue...

(Note: this makes a lot of meringue. According to the recipe, this is enough for two pies. We like meringue in my family and this was perfect for our one pie. I say, make it all and whatever you don't use you can bake into little meringue cookies by dolloping the extras on a piece of parchment paper and broiling for 30 seconds.) 

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Let boil for 10 minutes (about the time it takes for a candy temperature to reach 220 degrees, if you have one). 

Meanwhile, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer at medium speed, until firm (about 5 -6 minutes). While still beating the whites, slowly stream in the water/sugar combination. Increase the speed to high and beat until the whites become stiff and glossy, and little peaks form. It will be somewhat cool at this point. 

Preheat the boiler and position an oven rack eight inches from the heat. 

Gently spoon the meringue around the edge of the pie and use a spatula to spread it across and over the top. Broil the pie for about 30 seconds, keeping an eye on it so as not to burn it and turning it as necessary for even browning. 

Enjoy your beautifully impressive, yet deceptively easy dessert! 

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cherry Peppermint Cookies & The Holiday Cookie Exchange

Holy Holiday Cookies, Batman! 

Despite my Thanksgiving cooking exhaustion, I promised myself I would make cookies for and attend the NEOCSG Holiday Cookie Exchange. Maybe holiday cookies are a no brainer for some of you, but let me let you in on a little secret, us Jewish people don't really know from Christmas cookies. While we may enjoy an occasional sparkly red and green sugared treat, a iced gingerbread man, or a peppermint striped cane, they're not our forte. Ask me for a latke and I've got you covered, but a seasonal cookie? Well. That took a lot of reading and a little invention. 

I spent most of Saturday researching, shopping for, and baking my holiday treat. I flipped through my Bon Appetite, I combed the Internet, looking for a good representation of a Christmas cookie, and I even learned the history of the maraschino cherry in a quest to discover it if those sugary holiday staples were gluten free. (Did you know that a new process for preserving maraschino cherries came about during prohibition? As cherry liquor was outlawed, like alcohols of the time, new preservatives had to be devised to continue the production of these sweet treats.) 

I eventually settled upon a variation of cherry tassies - making small adaptations to the recipe in December's Better Homes and Gardens. Tassies are meant to be baked in mini muffin tins and are generally made with cream cheese, but why bake a conventional cookie when you can experiment, right?  

In any event, I arrived at the Independence Public Library, Tupperware of cherry-peppermint cookies in hand, and was totally and completely amazed at the ten-foot long table covered in gluten free baked goods. Chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, meringues, cupcakes, and even a version of my Cream Cheese Thumbprints! (Which, by the way, were given an updated spin by a lovely lady named Michelle who gave them a new, delicious update and seasonal color by using raspberry - or strawberry? - jam. Yum!) 

Cookies aside, I gleaned tons of valuable information from the meeting. From a through report on November's Celiac Conference at the Columbus Children's Hospital (did you know, for example, that an injection and pill are in the works for us celiacs in case of accidental gluten ingestion?), to an awesome resource list for online ordering (Joan's GF bagels rank among my next I-must-try-this gluten free foods), the ladies of the NEOCSG really know how to pack a lot of information into one hour meeting. 

Among the most interesting of information passed along though was the formation of a Northeast Ohio Gluten Free Co-Op. That is, buying gluten free foods at whole sale in bulk style. And we're not just talking crackers and flours here, the catalogue passed out to us included Gluten Free Ravioli and the like. You will absolutely see more information on how to join the Co-Op soon, but if you want direct information immediately, please email me at dana (dot) wax (at) gmail (dot) com, and I will do my best to connect you up with Serena, the Co-Op Lady. 

Alright now, I know you're thinking what I was thinking by the end of the meeting, let's get to the cookies, already! A word about my Cherry-Peppermint creations though, I was trying to keep them lactose and nut free in case of any other food allergies at the Exchange. However, I think a tablespoon or two of Cream Cheese might make these guys stick together a little better. Additionally, substituting a third of the flour with almond meal or ground hazelnuts could be a delicious variation. So experiment and enjoy - welcome to the beginning of the Holiday Food Season!

Cherry-Peppermint Holiday Cookies
lactose and nut free, minor adaptations Cherry Tassies in December's Better Homes & Gardens

1 ¼ cup Earth Balance (or butter), softened
2 ¼ cup Powered Sugar
1 tsp. Baking Powder 
½ tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Peppermint Extract 
1 tsp. Vanilla 
1 Egg
2 ½ cups GF Flour Mix (I use whole foods brand so it has xanthum gum in it. If you're using your own mix, be sure to add 1/2 teaspoon of xanthum gum so your cookies don't fall apart!) 
4 GF Candy Canes crushed (I used Pure Fun Organic Candy Canes)
Approximately 48 GF Maraschino Cherries (I used Silver Palate - no artificial flavors or dyes, in addition to being gluten free!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Gradually beat in 1 ½ cups of the powdered sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. Then beat in the peppermint, vanilla, and the egg. Add as much of the flour as you can using the electric mixer, and add remaining flour, stirring by hand. Gently mix in the crushed candy canes.

Place the rest of the powdered sugar in bowl (about ¾ cups, though you won’t need that much and can use less to start with). Form dough into 1-inch balls and roll through the powdered sugar. Place the ball on a greased non-stick cookie sheet and place cherry in the center. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Bake for 17-20 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Let cool at least 5 minutes on the tray before removing them. Makes between 42 and 48 cookies, depending on size.  

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mi Pueblo - Good Mexican Food Near University Circle

It has been 17 long days since I've reported on a gluten free place for Clevelanders. To be fair, some of those days included multiple trips out of state (restaurant reviews included), some included unwritten about trips to already reviewed favorites like Cafe Tandoor and Pearl of the Orient, and some included the prep for and the actual day of Thanksgiving. So, I deserve a little eensy-teensy break on this, right? 

Yeah, I didn't think so either. 

So, in order to get back into your good graces, gluten free Clevelanders, I bring you dinner from the delicious and surprisingly fun Mi Pueblo. 

From beans to rice to corn tortillas and tacos, Mexican cuisine offers a wide array of naturally gluten free food. It's kind of freeing to open a menu and labor over it in a positive way - deciding what to get rather than trying to find the least offensive offering. Despite my usual good luck with Mexican food, I called ahead see if they could accommodate my gluten free
 needs, as it is always best to do. I was assured corn tortillas would find their way on my plate and, though still a little leery of the language barrier, off to dinner I went. 

Before we continue, let me just take a moment to re-point out that Mi Pueblo is not a gluten free establishment. Cross contamination can and probably is an issue here so you will need to have a conversation with your server and place your order according to your comfort level. 

It didn't take long for me to settle on the quesadillas. Normally made with flour tortillas, I thought it would be a nice treat to get something I usually couldn't. While I sat back and munched on the corn tortilla chips, we were unexpectedly served a small cup of soup - chicken for my brother and father, vegetable for me . (I must say, my soup looked suspiciously like theirs so I didn't dare try it, guessing it would be chicken broth. The family gave it positive reviews, though.) Not bad for about seven dollars a dinner, not bad at all. 

My cheese filled corn tortillas arrived with a side of Spanish rice, refried beans, ...and Mariachi musical accompaniment. Yes, really! Two elderly gentleman (perhaps, Senior Seniors? ba-dump!) played their way through the restaurant, strumming out intricate melodies on their guitars and serenading the diners in Spanish. It was quite an experience. 

The food was good, ooey, gooey, cheesy, and just what I wanted. It would've been nice if there were vegetables somewhere on my plate, but I suppose I could've ordered a side (the prices are definitely right for adding on sides, or appetizers, or desserts, or some of their famous margaritas...) 

All in all, I have no complaints about my dinner at Mi Pueblo. It was great to get out, to get away from some of my Thanksgiving leftovers, to have someone else cook for a change, and to experience more of Cleveland! 


Mi Pueblo on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bangin' Cranberry Cornbread - November's Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger

Have you recovered from Thanksgiving yet? Cooked and baked out? Well, I certainly hope you've saved up some energy and some room for dessert because it is for you,  Gluten Free Clevelanders, that I send out this reminder... the NEOCSG's 8th annual Holiday Cookie Exchange is this Sunday - November 30th - at the Independence Public Library from 2 -4 pm. Bring 2 dozen cookies, a container, and a recipe to share. Imagine! A room full of cookies you can eat. Please go to their website for more information or RSVP send an email to clevelandceliac@yahoo.com. 

But, on to the food. 

From days of planning, shopping, and prep work to post a Thanksgiving food coma, I must admit I've been in a world-of-food overload. I made sweet dishes, I made savory dishes. I made side dishes and I made main courses. I even made a dessert (and what a dessert!), and, phew, to be honest I'm still a little warn out. So, too tired to tell you about my recipes - though garlic mashed sweet potatoes and pumpkin meringue pie are in your future, and sitting pretty in my fridge - I give you my contribution to this month's "Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger". 

Started and run by Sea over at Book of Yum, the Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger event encourages us gluten free bloggers to make a fellow bloggers' recipe and review it. This month's theme was Thanksgiving food. A lofty challenge that, making someone else's food for your holiday meal, so when I chose, I chose carefully. 

And I chose well

I'd been eyeing Maureen's Skillet Cornbread recipe since it appeared on her holdthegluten.net site earlier this month. Thing is, I Maureen's recipe scared me a little. I'd never used millet flour before. And. though I bought it months ago, my xanthum gum has remained strikingly untouched. Plus, I didn't have a cast iron skillet. Sure Maureen made it look easy, but would her delicious and moist cornbread turn out as good in my lowly glass pan? 

Feeling adventurous - after all, I was already throwing caution to the wind with my glass dish here -  I added cranberries to the mix for a seasonal twist. 

Home from college for the holiday, my brother never misses a chance to tease me about my gluten free food or to remind me how glad he is that he isn't a celiac. Brothers. Anyway, his days of making fun of gluten free eating are done - or at least momentarily curbed - because he had barely swallowed his bite of fresh-from-the-oven gluten free cornbread before declaring, "this cornbread is bangin'!"

Oh, bangin' it was. So much so, the entire pan disappeared in two days, and there are already plans for making a second batch tomorrow. Easy, delicious, and gluten free this cornbread is worth making even if you're a little baked-out. Thanks for the awesome recipe Maureen! 

Bangin' Cranberry Cornbread
with teeny-tiny adaptions made from Maureen's Skillet Cornbread

1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum
1/2 cup of millet flour
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon of sugar
1 cup + 2 Tablespoon of cornmeal
1 cup of milk
1 egg
1/2 cup of reduced fat sour cream (I used Horizon's Organic)
1/4 cup of canola oil
2/3rds cup of cranberries 

Additional sugar for pan bottom (1 - 2 Tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 8 or 9 inch glass dish with canola oil spray (or other GF cooking spray).  Mix all ingredients except cranberries into a batter. Fold cranberries into the mix. Sprinkle sugar into bottom of pan (enough to coat) before pouring in the batter. 

Bake 25 - 35 minutes, or until a knife stuck into the bread's center comes out clean and the top turns a golden brown. Due to the sour cream, the bread is a little wetter in the middle requiring the up to 35 minutes of baking. Be sure to check at 25 minutes to determine your additional baking time. 

(Note: this cornbread tastes amazing warm, but cold, the cranberries become more than a little tart. Also, if you use fresh cranberries, the juices will bleed a little and you may find purple spots in your cornbread. Be assured this is yummy cranberry juice goodness and not anything gross, like mold.) 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gluten Free PSA #6: Take Care of Your Thyroid

The thyroid gland. As one of the body's largest glands, this little butterfly shaped guy sits in your throat, carefully controlling your metabolic rate, making invaluable proteins, and determining how sensitive your body should be to other hormones. 

And wouldn't you know it, researchers in Sweden have recently discovered that individuals with celiac disease are at a three to four times increased risk for developing thyroid disease -- and vice versa, those with thyroid problems are at the same risk for developing celiac disease. This includes all thyroid problems: hypothyroid, hyperthyroid, and autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto's disease). 

This study was written up in the October, 2008 edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. To read the full article, please click here. And take care to take care of your thyroids! 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Homemade Pizza...With A Little Help From Whole Foods Pizza Crust Mix

November conjures up a great many images in the mind. In early November, autumn is in full bloom, while in the later part of the month, the frost of winter creeps in with the season's first snow. One might imagine cornucopias filled with gourds, apples, and other fall fruits or pilgrims shaking hands with scantily clad natives. Perhaps the multicolored plumage of turkeys and uncomfortably early Santa Clauses posing for pictures in mall displays spring to mind. I could go on and on about what November usually brings, but this November is different. This year, November tis the season for pizza. 

On all of my recent trips, there's been pizza. All over the gluten-free blogosphere, thanks to the latest Daring Bakers' challenge, there's been pizza. And every time I talk to my gluten eating friends, there seemed to be pizza. A girl can only think about, read about, and travel for pizza for so long before the overwhelming craving leads to some kind of action. And I'm the action oriented type. 

But, if you're going to be determined about something, it may as well be pizza. 

Trouble is, thanks in part to the chill of November, I've also feeling a bit lazy. Pizza has always been a convince food, at least that's how I think of it. So spending time to make a perfect dough - mixing different flours, letting it rise, rolling it out - then, after baking, ending up with only mixed "it'll do" results? No thank you. That, I was not in the mood for.  

Enter Whole Foods 365 Organic Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix. With 2 eggs, an egg white, cider vinegar, warm water, olive oil, and a packet of included yeast, the guess work is taken out of pizza dough, leaving me with a surprisingly fast and relatively easy end product. Add to that pizza sauce from a can, low fat pre-shredded mozzarella cheese, and Trader Joe's frozen, precut sweet pepper mix and pizza is almost a convince food again. Almost. From start to finish the pizza making process still took over an hour and a half. 

The box makes 2 12.5 inch pizzas. Or, if you're like me and pizza pan-less, it makes 3 incredibly thick crust 8.5 inch pizzas, as made in a pie pan.  On the whole, I'd make this pizza crust again. Unlike the thin, foldable pizza crust I'm accustomed to, this thick, bready crust was more like a Chicago-style pizza crossed with a loaf of crusty french bread. "Chicago style pizza on steroids", my boyfriend mused (he ate his whole pizza in one sitting, mind you). But, if you're not a fan of dough an inch and a half thick, I'm sure following the directions - and using a pizza pan - would result in a much more manageable crust. 

While I doubt homemade pizza will take the place of mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie at my Thanksgiving table (though, never say never!), I think I rather like this new November tradition. Besides, I'm not sure if the pizza bug is out of me yet. And with so many variations to try, I can't help but hope it doesn't leave any time soon. 

As I go off to lick the crumbs from my plate, I leave you with a final question: Any favorite pizza crusts, sauces, toppings? Any suggestions for pizza goodness? Tried and true recipes? Strange but delicious combinations? Dig in, dish it out, and share in the pizza goodness. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Silvio's Organic Pizza - Ann Arbor, Michigan

As long as I'm being unfaithful, I might as well come clean. I had pizza in Ann Arbor, too. 

In a land of Domino's, Pizza Huts, and Cottage Inns, Silvio's Organic Pizza offers it's clientele a "slice of health". As their name suggests, Silvio's sauce and toppings are all organic.

And what toppings! The Silvio's menu boats 35 different kinds of pizza. Who even knew there were so many things to put on a pizza? From your average margarita pizza, to asparagus and cream cheese sauce, to a vegan offering, to pesto seafood, to pumpkin, to...frankly, the choices can make your head spin. If you've poured over the 35 options and still can't find what you're looking for, Silvio's offers you the chance to "create your own masterpiece". 

The coolest part? They delivered. That's right, I got steaming hot gluten free pizza - in a pizza box - delivered to my (well, my boyfriend's) front door. Since leaving New York, where it's commonplace for overburdened bike messengers to peddle bags of take-out at any hour of the day or night, delivery has become something of a novelty for me. After all, here in the great American Midwest, pizza is pretty much the only thing anyone is willing to drive to your door. So it was really exciting to get dinner that I didn't have to cook from the comfort of my own home. 

Being the creature of habit that I am, I couldn't resist the eggplant pizza. I had an inkling that something funny might be going on when I saw that gluten free pizzas were only offered in 6" size, but I figured pizza was pizza and ordered anyway. When my pizza arrived, I couldn't help but laugh: my roasted eggplant, mozzarella cheese, and sun dried tomatoes were sitting atop a Glutino crust! I'd recognize that taste anywhere. Towards the end of senior year, when I was so busy working on my thesis I barely had time to breathe, I lived on those crusts, smothered in garlic humus and baked within an inch of their life. 

I was miffed for a moment - after all, why was I paying $8.59 for something I could've  - and had! - made myself? But as I ate my pizza, my pizza that I didn't have to make, my pizza that came from the same place that satisfied my gluten eating guy, my pizza that had really great toppings on it, I realized the deal wasn't so bad after all. And while I think using the Glutino crusts are a little silly, I'm glad Silvio's makes itself available to the gluten free community. How could I complain about a thing like that?

Clevelanders, Ann Arbor is only a hop, skip, and a 3 and a half hour jump away. It's one tank of gas, max. If you find yourself wanting to take a day trip somewhere, consider the destination possibilities of that quaint Michigan town and its gluten free pizza goodness. 

On a completely unrelated note...Nick over at Peanut Butter Boy is celebrating Peanut Butter Lovers Month in a big way. He's asking you to submit your favorite peanut butter recipe and will be showcasing his favorites at the end of the month. Why not use it as an opportunity to do some peanut butter food science-ing of your own? I offered up those oh-so yummy peanut butter pumpkin cookies, what are you going to send



Silvio's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Zucchini Cranberry Walnut Muffins

The season is changing. 

Two nights ago, we had our first real snow of the season. Here, snow only counts if it sticks to the ground; until then, it's merely a driving disturbance. We Clevelanders are a tough bunch when it comes to weather. We have to be. Our weather - with its snow on Tuesday, then warm enough for the beach on Friday - keeps us on our toes. A guessing game of how many layers one can wear without toppling over. 

That is, until winter comes. 

Winter in Cleveland is a sure thing. Snow from now through March, and probably April. But it's a good thing. The city is resting, hibernating, it needs it's sleep. I'm resting, too, and hopefully the billowy white blanket of the winter months will cover us both, keeping us warm as we plot a successful rejuvenation come spring. Until then, it's mostly indoors for me. But that's not bad; there's plenty to do. 

The effects of seasonal changes aren't limited to weather, though . Have you noticed the grocery stores are turning away from orange harvest displays as they put their focus on warm-you-to-the-bone items fit for any icy winter evening? The holiday season is practically upon us, and it's only November 18th.  

As the season change draws closer, are there any winter foods your taste buds ache for? Any fall or summer time ingredients you'll be sad to see go? 

The Japanese believe in serving food that pairs in harmony with nature and I humbly agree. Winter foods those thick soups, crusty breads, and stuffing mixes are weather perfect - warming and hearty - but pose a certain danger for my celiac stomach.

Ah well, I guess I'll just have to mess around in my kitchen and create my own winter treats. Darn. 

Zucchini Cranberry Walnut Muffins

Blending a summer squash and a fruit that embodies winter months, I present to you the perfect end of autumn treat. At less than 200 calories a muffin, these puppies will fill you up without weighing you down.

A note about nutrition. The muffins contain vitamin A, folate, manganese, potassium (the zucchini), vitamin C, dietary fiber, antioxidants, a panel of micro nutrients, promote kidney health (the cranberries), protein, and omega 3s. And if the cancer-fighting, cholesterol lowering power of cranberry-walnut anything isn't enough for you, note the low cholesterol and fat content. For these muffins, I replaced most of the egg with egg whites and most of the oil with cinnamon applesauce. That's right, a baked good my recently fat-insoluble tummy can actually stand. Oh, it's worth saying again: they're less than 200 calories. Beat that, Starbucks. 

Oh and have I mentioned? They're. Delicious. 

When I told my boyfriend I was going to bring him zucchini cranberry walnut muffins, he was excited. When I went on to explain their positive health benefits, he claimed they suddenly seemed a lot less appetizing. (Who's he kidding? I'll be lucky to have one muffin left by the end of the week.) But for picky eaters - and loved ones who love to pick on you - you might want to keep the knowledge of health benefits to yourself. Simply smile as you watch them devour these amazing muffins, knowing you've provided them with a nutritious snack, whether they like it or not. 

Recipe adapted and re-angled from Deb's Zucchini Bread over at Smitten Kitchen
makes 12 large muffins

1 egg
4 Tablespoons of liquid egg whites
1/2 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla 
2 Tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
scant 1/2 cup of cinnamon applesauce
1 cup of grated zucchini 

1 and 1/2 cups GF flour blend 
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (or nutmeg, if you're not the pumpkin pie spice fiend that I am)
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 - 3/4 cup of chopped or halved fresh cranberries**
a muffin tin lined with muffin liners

**dried cranberries can always be used, but unlike the real thing, certain brands of dried cranberries can harbor artificial flavorings, colorings, and added sugars. make sure to read the label to pick the best possible product.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and egg whites. Mix in the sugars, applesauce, and oil followed by the zucchini and vanilla. Set aside. 

In another bowl, combine the remainder of your ingredients - the flour, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the walnuts and cranberries, too. 

Add the dry flour blend into the egg mixture and combine until throughly mixed. Evenly distribute the batter amongst the muffin liners and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Spinach Ricotta Roll-ups in Pumpkin Sauce with a side of Gluten-Free News

I've watched newly famous actors on late night television marvel at their notoriety. There I was, putting filling up my pick up with unleaded 87 when this woman who'd been eyeing me for the past five minutes got this crazed look in her eye as she recognized me. She let out a big wail as she rushed me, asking for my autograph and if I'd father her next child. That stuff doesn't happen to me, I mean, I'm a regular Joe. And then Jay or Conan reminds them regular Joe's don't make multimillion dollar deals and star in movies with Jessica Alba. The star then laughs humbly, agreeing, but dazed...

My point is, you rarely get to determine if your a success, rather you know based on the opinions and actions of others. 

And while I've far from reached my celiac education and gluten free outreach goals, I'm glowingly proud say: Gluten Free In Cleveland was mentioned in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper. The article was about celiac disease and, while I was only listed as a resource in the side menu, it's still pretty exciting to be counted as a valid source of information. Even without me, the fact that the Plain Dealer ran an article about celiac disease is pretty darn exciting. You can read about it here, and a special thanks to the reader who emailed me to let me know that such an article had come out and that I was mentioned. 

News item number 2 comes from the North East Ohio Celiac Support Group. Get your aprons and oven mitts ready for their 8th annual Holiday Cookie Exchange, November 30th from 2 - 4 pm in the Independence Public Library. Bring 2 dozen cookies per person attending and multiple copies of your recipe, too. For more information check out their website, and get baking! 

Also, and I know its seriously last minute, but the Mustard Seed Market is having a Gluten-Free Baking & Cooking Class tonight (Monday the 17th) at 6:30. It's $15 and registration is required so call 1-440-519-3663 to register, and call quickly!

And finally, I bring you the latest of my pumpkin crazed kitchen experiments: Spinach Ricotta Roll-Ups in Pumpkin Sauce. A mouthful I know. But lately, due to a new strange but true digestive system issue, my delicate little celiac system isn't tolerating lots of other foods, mainly fats. Now if spending my autumn elbow deep in canned pumpkin has taught me anything, nothing heartys up a meal like my favorite fall squash. As heavy as the name sounds, these little roll ups were surprisingly light. 

(Low Fat) Spinach Ricotta Roll-Ups in Pumpkin Sauce

1 cup low fat ricotta cheese 
1 egg
2 -3 cloves chopped garlic 
several handfuls of fresh spinach
1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles

3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 Tablespoon of cornstarch
1/2 cup skim milk
1/3rd cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tablespoon of butter 
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon pumpkin butter (optional, I happened to have it)

1 medium sized casserole dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large pot, cook the noodles within a minute of being done. Rinse with cold water, drain, set aside. 

Meanwhile, cook the spinach and garlic down in a large pan until the leaves are wilted and the garlic browns. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. In a  food processor, blend the spinach, ricotta cheese, and the egg until just smooth. Over beating will cause the mixture to become runny. 

In a medium sauce pot, combine milk, cornstarch, vegetable broth, and butter. Simmer for 3 - 5 minutes. Stir in pumpkin until it dissolves into the sauce. Add pumpkin butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper to desired sweet or saltiness. 

To assemble the roll ups, wash hands thoroughly and get ready for a bit of a mess. Cut a lasagna noodle in half and, on a separate plate, spread the spinach-ricotta mixture over the noodle. Roll up the noodle and carefully place it in the pan. Repeat, repeat, and repeat until the noodles are gone or you've run out of room. 

Smoother the roll-ups in the pumpkin sauce and bake for 35 - 40 minutes. Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese and an adventurous attitude. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mr. Miceli - Long Island, New York

I've been cheating on Cleveland.

To be fair, the relationship has been strained for years. We've even gone through a trial separation.

While Cleveland will always be home, New York will always by my love - even if my latest visit there reminded me of the pleasures of the great American Midwest, with it's cars and lack of trash on the street. But oh, New York. Seeing the skyline makes my heart ache, and as I gazed at the art deco geometrics of the George Washington Bridge sweep across the Hudson River and into the clear blue sky, I longed to be a part of the city again. 

I could fill volumes on celiac eating in New York. It's successes - the quaint gluten free speciality restaurants - as well as it's drawbacks - the language barriers for one, and the fast pacedness of some suspect places that makes you hope they took you're gluten free request seriously, and then there are the prices. Yes, being gluten free in New York City is a story unto itself. But it's a story for another day. Right now, it's all about my new find, Mr. Miceli in Rockville Centre, Long Island. 

Of all the wonders of finding a great pizza place in the middle of a busy town, the thing that surprised me the most was that Mr. Miceli is a regular, no frills, pizza joint. From it's basic table and chairs, to ordering at the counter, to the tongue in cheek paintings on the wall that depict scenes from classic movies with a pizza twist, it doesn't strike you as a place that would cater to a celiac population. 

Originally, they didn't. It wasn't until the owner found out he had a wheat allergy that Mr. Miceli became an equal opportunity eatery. And while I wouldn't wish such an abdominal restriction on anybody, I'm sure glad I was able to get such a great meal there. 

They have gluten free pasta - good, white rice, tastes pretty darn similar to the real thing gluten free pasta - and can make any of their pasta dishes with it. The pizza takes 35 minutes to make, and honestly we were too hungry to wait. But having an 8 hour car trip to look forward to the next day, we easily justified getting a pizza for lunch on the road (and oh, it was such a welcome alternative to Perkins' potatoes or whatever it is I try to scrape together as food on the highway). 

My huge plate of angel hair pasta arrived full of chopped garlic, fresh broccoli florets, and enough just olive oil to coat the noodles without making my dish needlessly greasy. (Picture not included, as though my camera made it to New York, my memory card sat lonely at home. Had I been able to, I would've snapped a picture of the kind and helpful people working there, too). The pasta was...pretty great. And enough for two meals. 

But, the pizza. Real gluten free New York pizza. Yum. My parents are native New Yorkers and so New York Pizza has always been a big deal in my house (note the capital letters to punctuate the importance). Midwestern pizza, with it's thick bready crust, is simply a paunchy, bloated imitation of it's far superior thin crusted cousin. 

I stowed away a few pieces of Mr. Miceli's pizza in my freezer for a rainy day, and I'm sorry to say it will probably be some time until I go back again. But your fate doesn't have to be mine. If you get a chance, if you're in Long Island, or if you're willing to travel a bit for good gluten-free food (and service!), make sure you stop by Mr. Miceli; I know I will the next time I'm in town. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mea Culpa!

Blame it on daylight savings time, my trip to this past weekend, or generally bad planning, but have to admit, I've failed you, Gluten Free Cleveland Community. Last night, the Whole Foods on Ceder Road hosted a gluten free tour of their store. I meant to post it - really still thought I had the time to do so - but clearly I was wrong. Try as I might, November is practically flashing before my eyes. Is it really the 13th? And where did the leaves on the trees go?

In any event, if you're dying for a gluten free shopping experience, worry not. Mustard Seed Market be having a gluten free diet discussion and store tour this Saturday, November 15th from 10am -12 noon at their Solon store. There's no charge, but to register call 1-400-519-3663. 

I will try to be better on the uptake folks - and I'm sure if you call the University Heights Whole Foods, the people in charge of the event will happily give you a run down of what went on.  But for proof that I both practice what I preach and that I'm frighteningly behind on what week or month it is, note the picture above: my contribution to keeping kids safe on halloween.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Maggiano's Little Italy

I'd been hearing good things about Maggiano's Little Italy for months. 

These days, more and more chain restaurants are making an effort to connect customers with their gluten-free fair. From Carrabba's to Qdoba, national chains are making an allergy-friendly splash in a big way, providing on line and in person annotated gluten free menus. 

These menus isolate the already gluten free offerings - steak, fish, chicken, without a glutenous sauce, or a salad without croutons and the like. And though such a service is great, as it ensures the waitstaff and kitchen takes us celiacs seriously rather than brushing us off as finicky customers, few and far between is chain restaurant goes out of it's way to provide gluten free option. 

Maggiano's Little Italy offers gluten free pasta. Now that's celiac service.
 
After some careful deliberations between the options, I settled on the Chicken Pesto Linguine - though I substituted broccoli for the chicken, and gluten free penne for linguine - and a salad with gluten free salad dressing. 

The truly cool and exceptional thing about Maggiano's is that the sous chef - Chef Chuck - took the time to talk to me. He arrived holding a special, bright yellow, gluten free ordering pad and retook my order, assuring me of a gluten-free meal; something he could assure me of, as he'd be making my dinner personally. It's great to eat out pretty much fear-free. 

And another note about the pasta dinners. They're huge. I mean huge. After eating my fill, I had enough left overs for two, yes two, dinners afterwards. I'm pretty sure one "serving" is a full box of pasta. And I'm only talking about the half order here. 

Yes, Maggiano's provides excellent food allergy friendly dining (I've heard they're just as accommodating with any food allergy you can throw at them), but I can't give it an absolutely glowing review. In the end, Maggiano's is a chain restaurant, and as such serves chain restaurant food. My pesto was good, not great, not bad, but just kind of average. Blandish. Food that's not offending, but nothing to write home about either. 

That said, I'll be dining at Maggiano's again. It's nice to go somewhere that my family likes and with plenty of options, I'm sure to find something more enticing than bland pesto. I like having nearly the whole menu open to me, and its great to have "safe Italian food" in your gluten free restaurant roster. All in all, Maggiano's is no five star restaurant, but they do offer five star service. 


Maggiano's Little Italy on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 7, 2008

Eat'n Park


Hope is a fragile thing. 

Call me cynical, but hope always comes with a healthy does of skepticism and superstition, if not full on fear. The fear of our hopes being dashed surrounds us; we grow up with it, being told nonsense like if you say your birthday wish out loud, it won't come true - as if there's some kind of malevolent cosmic eavesdropper just waiting for you to mess up. 

But such superstition is understandable, given how much it hurts when things don't work out. There's been a lot of that these days. But then there are some days....

November 4th was no ordinary Tuesday. In a month when we're accustomed to freezing temperatures and snow days, us Clevelanders enjoyed a balmy, sunny, 68 degrees. In a time when gas prices have reached into the $2.50s, I happily filled up my tank for only $1.99 / gallon. And in a country whose citizens has been divided, subjugated, and lied to the people rose up with a resounding "yes we can", a call to arms for action and change. 

Yes, on November 4th, I saw a lot of things I really wasn't sure I'd ever see, despite how much I wished I would. Maybe that's part of the reason I didn't even carry my camera with my that day, superstition. As if any attempt to document the day might've landed me in the cross-hairs of that malevolent eavesdropper in the sky. In any event, it's a real shame I didn't have my camera, for I came across something truly remarkable, something I really never thought I'd see: a menu at a normal - everyday, white-bread type, near fast food joint - restaurant with a gluten free menu printed on the back cover of every menu handed out to every patron.  Seriously. And where does such a place exist? Eat'n Park

No, really.  Eat'n Park. Imagine my surprise when I flipped to the back cover to read "For our celiac customers...." and in addition to a brief description of the grains that endanger celiacs and an invitation to ask your server that your meal be prepared gluten free was a listing of 15 or so options. 

I happily enjoyed two poached eggs, a baked potato, and a fruit cup, but there were far more interesting options on their celiac menu - omelets, fish fillets, burgers, fajita salads, and the like. I'm not saying that Eat'n Park is great food, but sometimes good food will do. And good safe food? You can't go wrong. As any roadtrippin' Midwestern/Mid-Atlantic state-ers know, Eat'n Park practically lines the highways from the far boarder of Pennsylvania straight through Indiana - and isn't it nice to know you can stop in at any one of them and get a celiac safe meal? 

I sure think it is. And if Eat'n Park can offer a gluten free meal, maybe change really has come. Now, if only they could gluten-free-ize those famous smiley face cookies...

Eat 'n Park on Urbanspoon
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