Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Light, Bright Mac & Cheese and The Most Exciting News To Come From Starbucks Since Coffee

As my fingers rapidly race over my keyboard, I'm reminded of that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, wherein after having all the kids and their parents sign the "you've entered at your own risk" (to put it mildly) waiver, he tries to get them to hurry along, announcing "So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. " 

Spring is springing all over Northeast, Ohio. It's beautiful, sunny, and on a few days, even warm. (And though, we Clevelanders know that this likely means tomorrow the temperature will likely lurk near freezing, we're made of a heartier stock then most, and can tough out the most ridiculous spring season - heck, even our flowers blossom under these conditions!) While I'd love to say I've been neglecting my gluten-free duties for the sunshine, I've actually been buried under various projects, including creating a slide show for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless' annual benefit on May 1st. (NEOCH is one of those great organizations who work behind the scenes to revive Cleveland. The $50 ticket includes dinner - though questionable one as far as gluten is concerned - an open bar, a keynote speaker, and a silent auction. Please contact me if you're at all interested in attending or donating.) 

And that's a shame, as I have so much information on gluten free events, great gluten free finds in our very own Cleveland, and delicious spring recipes that I'm practically bursting at my celiac seems. Though it's perpetually on my to-do list, I'm continually shocked to find another jam packed day has gone by without finding the time to share recipes, food finds, and some of the great info so many of you have emailed to me. 

On that note, to those who've sent emails - both of their gluten-free finds and just of appreciation - thank you. Even if I don't respond right away (or for weeks) I read every one and I'm so happy that Cleveland's celiac community is growing stronger everyday as it makes itself vi sable on our culinary landscape. 

Speaking of speaking out, have you heard the best news to come out of Starbucks since the return of the pumpkin spice latte (seriously, those things might just have liquid cocaine in them, they're that addictive) - that's right, following in the trailblazing footsteps of General Mills' Chex and Betty Crocker, Starbucks will soon be offering a GLUTEN-FREE VALENCIA ORANGE CAKE. 

Starbucks says the decision was made based on the numerous phone calls, letters, and emails they've been fielding over the years from gluten free customers. This isn't just a quality of life increase for us folks, this is putting celiac disease center stage as well as proving to all of those who know they need to eat gluten-free but are dragging their feet that it IS possible to live happy, healthy, and DELICIOUSLY, gluten-free.  (Granted, I say this without having eaten this cake, but I can't imagine Starbuck's putting a shotty cake out - at least not when they have all the time in the world they want to perfect it. )

These pastries are expected to hit stores in May and will cost $2.25. You can read more about it in the Forbes article here. And if all this talk of orange cake has set off a craving you just can't control, why not whip up an Amazing Almond Orange Vanilla Pound Cake - a mouthwatering gluten-free version of Starbucks' lemon loaf cake (and my mom's favorite thing for me to make ever). 

There's oh so much more happening in the gluten-free world (and isn't that an exciting sentence all on it's own?) but reading about it all at once - or writing about it for that matter - would be fully overwhelming. For now, I leave you with an impromptu dinner that turned out to be one of the best gluten-free meals I ever made. 

First things first, I love pasta. Since I was little, I have filled my plate and my tummy with sticky, starchy semolina flour that tasted so very good going in but ended up being so very bad to my poor little body. And though my tastes have widened considerably since childhood, and though I've thankfully traded in semolina for gluten-free alternatives, I still very much doubt there's any dish better than a hearty vegetable and (gluten-free!) pasta bake.  There's something positively magical about a drippy, creamy sauce that fills each and every nook and cranny of elbow pasta.  If casseroles are comfort food, then pasta casseroles are the biggest, warmest, hug from your grandmother that you can imagine.  

Trouble is, eat foods like that every day and you'll have far more health problems than just celiac disease. But be honest, you don't really like those greasy, heavy meals that sit in your stomach for hours. No, with skim milk, vegetable oil butter,bright, vitamin rich vegetables, and protein and fiber packed quinoa pasta, a perfect, delicious dinner, a classic comfort food, really is within your gluten-free reach.

(Note: this recipe uses a tablespoon of Gluten-Free Pantry's Quick Mix, an all purpose blend of flours that contains xanthum gum, 4 types of GF flours, and is considerably thicker than regular GF flour. If you really want a great mac & cheese but don't have GF Pantry's Quick Mix, or don't want to fuss with the flour, you might want to check out my (Secret!) Mac and Cheese ... I told you, I love baked pastas. I might even have a problem. Think there's a twelve step program?) 

Light, Bright, Mac & Cheese Primavera 

1 box Quinoa Pasta (I like Ancient Grains)
3/4 cup sliced White Mushrooms
1 cup Frozen Peas (microwaved for 2 minutes, so they are pert but still cold)
1 cup Baby Spinach

3 Tablespoons Earth Balance
1 Tablespoon Gluten-Free Pantries' Quick Mix
1 egg
1 3/4 cups Skim Milk
1 1/2  - 2 cups Shredded Cheese (I used Kraft Natural's Colby and Monetary Jack Blend as well as a little Cheddar) 
1 generous squirt of Mustard
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
Black Pepper to taste

Cook the pasta for about 7 minutes, drain and set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a small sauce pan, whisk together flour and butter over medium high heat. Stir in milk and nutmeg and let simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, spray GF cooking spray over a medium sized pan and saute mushrooms and for 5-6 minutes over medium heat. Set the mostly cooked vegetables aside and toss the spinach into pan, turning heat to low, and stirring occasionally, making sure the spinach wilts, but doesn't burn. Temper an egg into the sauce mixture (for directions on tempering, click here, don't worry, I had to look it up, too) and then stir in the cheeses, mustard, salt,  and pepper. 

Gently fold the cheese mixture into the pasta. Once the pasta is thoroughly covered in ooey-gooey cheese (truly, this is an intoxicating smell), fold in the vegetables. Pour the mixture into a 9x13 casserole dish and bake for 30 -35 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving with a dash of nutmeg sprinkled over the top. 

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!! 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nothing Pleases Like Assorted Gluten-Free Products....

This picture of an adorable, hand carved sign has sat on my digital camera for some six months now, just waiting an anecdote good enough to let it out into the (Internet) light of day. 

I'm sad to say, not a one has come by yet. 

In fact, no matter how I tried, I just couldn't find a reason to talk about the Middlefield Cheese Shop in Middlefield, Ohio. Sure, my trip out to that adorable old-timey cheese factory was nice, as any trip to Amish country ever is, and who doesn't like assorted cheeses? (Have you heard, nothing pleases like 'em!), but in the end I felt there was little to blog home about. 

Oh how silly I was. 

Fact is, gluten-free life is growing. From New York to San Fransisco and literally everywhere in between gluten-free products are finding their way onto shelves. This summer, General Mills is putting out gluten-free corn chex, cinnamon chex, honey nut chex, and strawberry chex while Betty Crocker adds gluten free yellow cake, brownies, and cookies to the mix (get it, mix?) - and that's just this summer. (These are supposedly hitting shelves June 1st. Remember to make sure you buy the package that SAYS gluten free on it, as the cross-contaminated/unsafe old generation productes will probably be in stock a while.) Imagine where will be next summer, gluten-freeers. The possibilities are endless. 

But these great advancements in gluten-free quality of life have only come because we've pushed, we've shouted, we've made ourselves and our numbers known. And for that reason, I feel like it's important to share one very exciting thing about the Middlefield Cheese Shop (assorted, award winning homemade cheeses aside), they have a very nice selection of gluten-free products. 

Gluten-free and Amish Country are phrases I'd never imagined would go hand in hand, but among strudel fillings and shoefly pies were Gluten-Free Pantry mixes, tapioca flours, and well labeled gluten-free pastas. I, for one, am not just stunned, but completely and utterly pleased to see that news of celiac disease has reached even a population who so distances itself from the rest of the country, and that they have taken the importance of gluten-free living to heart, striving for better health for themselves and their children. 

And in the interest of recognizing gluten-free providers in the most surprising of places, I'd like to give a warm gluten-free shoutout to The Fowler's Milling Company in Chardon, Ohio. Known for their traditional American baking mixes, The Fowler's Milling Company store would absolutely be my first stop for jams, syrups, and pancake or biscuit mix in my pre-gluten-free days. ...These days though? I figured I'd best steer clear, after all traditional American rarely translates well to gluten-free. But upon entering the quaint, red country house that serves as a store front for the Fowler's Milling Company, I was absolutely shocked to find bags of brown rice flour, tapioca flour, soy flour, corn meal, potato flour, buckwheat flour, oat flour, specially marked wheat-free corn pasta, and recipe cards available for free of recipes for traditional baked goods made with oat flour along side the glutenous products. The lady working there said the owner keeps these things in stock for "people who don't eat wheat", as if that was a normal and every day concern. She hardly even seemed to notice my amazement for her products. 

I look forward to the day where everyone can wave off our gluten-problem with such ease. And if celiac disease and gluten-free living is reaching as far as Chardon and Middlefield, well, that day might be a lot closer than I thought. 

How about you? Where's the most surprising place you've ever come across a gluten free product? Leave me a comment and recognize that store that recognized your gluten-free needs! 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gluten Free PSA #10: April Celiac Events, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bob's Red Mill GF Pizza Crust...And News Thrown In For Good Measure

If there ever were a time for indecision, it's April. 

Not quite spring, yet not quite winter, April is a month brimming with ambiguity. If you need further proof, look only to the fact that temperatures soared to nearly 60 degrees earlier in the week, later there was a nose dive in temperature and an accompanying unexpectedly picturesque blanket of snow covering my lawn, and then today rain, so much so, opening day at Jacob's Field (or what "progressive field? are we really supposed to call it that?) was rained out.

Oh April. You do enjoy playing rough, don't you? 

And speaking of rough, I don't talk about it much, but for me, celiac disease has always been my "fun" autoimmune disease. Those five other autoimmune conditions that have constant turf wars in my body? Yeah, they don't really lend themselves to clever blogging or excuses for baking, and as such, they rarely have any reason to be written about here. (At least not yet, and when there's a way to treat connective tissue disease with muffins, believe you me, my blog will be the very first place in the world to report it!) 

I guess I bring these other illnesses to say, I apologize for the slow down in posts. All this screwy weather has screwed with my rheumatism and when I don't feel well, all of my cooking senses melt away faster than the snow we had last week. While I continue to make attempts at greatness in the kitchen, I'm sorry to say that the brownies and muffins I made left something to be desired, good, but not great, and so aren't quite reading for generally blogging consumption. 

Till my cooking karma returns, I give you April Celiac Updates and a few yummy things that have been taking up space on my digital camera: 

Gluten-Free Things to Do This April

April 13 - Gluten Free Pasta Class at the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking (click here for registration information) 
Mid April - The Greater Cleveland Celiac Association meets at the Solon Public Library, please contact Cindy Koller-Kass for details
April 26 - Celiac Disease Conference and Vendor Fair! Perhaps the most exciting gluten-free event of the spring season, this event will have programs for all ages, speakers, doctors, and of course, a sampling of delicious gluten free food from many great vendors. Click the link for registration information and mark your calenders! 

Carrabba's Italian Grill

Carrabba's gluten-free menu is pretty much common knowledge around celiac circles, and well, if you're savvy enough to use the Internet to find my little piece of gluten-free Internetland, you've probably heard of their GF menu or even made use of it yourself. 

But in case you haven't....

Carrabba's Italian Grill is one of those prefabbed chain restaurants that's about one indoor gondola ride away from being a theme restaurants. Pictures of large Italian families on the wall, fake trellises with faker vines and grapes hanging over head, wine glasses standard on every table - it's like Italy, if Italy came at $15.00 a plate. 

All that said, there's a reason Carrabba's dot the Midwestern countryside. The food is good. The menu is good. The ambiance, though fabricated, is good. (Though I've always thought the shrubbery atop the roof was more than just a little silly.) And they have a gluten free menu, a good one. 

Of course, the only vegetarian celiac thing on are a few salads. But still, they're good salads. I'm really partial to the grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, artichokes, and hazelnut encrusted goat cheese atop mixed greens salad. Oh, it's a good as it sounds. Drizzled in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, it's the kind of salad that actually is a great GF dinner salad, not just some lettuce on a plate. 

Now sure, it's a bummer you can't have pastas (but if you're not vegetarian, you can have your choice of some 10 beef, fish, or chicken dishes), but this salad really wont make you feel like you're going without. 

Bob's Red Mill Pizza Crust

I like pizza. I like it's smell. I like it's texture. I like the sauce, the cheese, and boy to a like a good chewy - but not too chewy - crunchy - but not too crunchy - crust. Yyyyyum. 

But finding a great GF crust is as much of an art as making a perfect topping to cheese to sauce ratio (for the record, I like spinach, garlic, and eggplant, you know, in case anyone is planning some GF pizza fan mail...). I've done the whole foods pizza crust mix (great for thick french bread pizzas, but not quite an every day crust), I've made use of the little 6" glutino crusts (they puffy up beautifully and are wonderfully crunchy, but really don't yield that perfect pizza slice), and I've even recently tried Joan's GF pizza crust (good, pre formed and rolled out makes for incredibly easy use, but the middle took forever to cook, and considering you have to special order it's not something I'd do again). 

But what mix really gets my pizza needs going? Bob's Red Mill. Oh Bobby - or Roberto i guess if we're going to be Italian - you do make a great crust. It doesn't taste like rice, or potatoes, or weird tapioca pudding. It tastes like pizza. It bakes like pizza. It chews like pizza. 

Because the bag comes with it's own package of yeast, when you decide it's pizza night, be aware you're going to have left over dough for another night. Ah well, pizza twice in one week -- yeah, I don't hear any complaining either. 

And finally...

I wanted to take an opportunity to thank for naming me one of their top health bloggers and adding me to their ranks of featured bloggers. (Look for the new badge, with my picture, on the side bar.) Wellsphere has a wealth of information on a variety of wellness, health preservation, and disease related topics, so it's an honor to be counted among some of the truly great blogs (many of them in the celiac disease community!) who are featured there.

If you still haven't had enough of me and my gluten-free writings, look for my article on Celiac Disease and the Jewish Community in an upcoming issue of the Cleveland Jewish News (it should appear by then end of April) and check out my recipe for gluten-free mandel bread. ...Though you might not want to try it out 'till the end of passover. And let's forget that I posted about pizza during pesach. Oy. 

And finally, finally, if you've had enough of all things celiac disease and gluten free related for one sitting, I invite you to check out my friend Kali's site and her quest to raise enough money to bring her service dog home to her. Kali, a young lady with elhers-danlos syndrome, is a brilliant and determined future lawyer (look only to how forcefully she pushes her way through law school despite her condition) and her love for the dog she has never met is quite touching.  Hers is a great story, an inspiring read, and a worthy cause. Should she be able to raise enough money to bring Hudson, the adorable service dog paired up with her, home, her quality of life will improve dramatically. Best of luck to you, Kali! 

Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Matzo Brei

This is the bread of affliction...

For anyone with celiac disease, that phrase is somewhat redundant. When gluten causes an autoimmune reaction in your tummy, all bread is the bread of affliction. Pain, discomfort, misery, all these words go hand and hand with bread, gluten's favorite hide out. 

And yet, Jewish homes across the world, we annually lift up a piece of matzo from the table and brazenly name it the bread of affliction. Meshugana. 

Okay, sure, there's loads and loads of history, tradition, and midrash behind matzo being the bread of affliction, but I have to tell you, being gluten-free, one of the foods I truly do miss is matzo brei (or fried matzo, for the Yiddish challenged among you). Nutritiously vapid, completely heart unhealthy, childhood favorite. I love matzo brei. And who doesn't? It's fried. It's salty. It's crunchy. It's delicious. 

Matzo itself I miss, sure, but when I came upon Barkat's Matzo Crackers at the Raisin Rack my brain (and salivary glands) went straight to matzo brei. But would these little crackers stand up to the test? 

Yes and yes. While not quite as crunchy as I remember - something I blame more on my rusty fried matzo cooking and my reservations to use as much butter as my father did when he cooked this for us on Passover mornings - this matzo brei really, really hit the spot. 

Barkat's Matzo Crackers aren't kosher for passover, but if you want to make matzo brei for your family you can follow Carol Fenster's recipe for homemade matzo as posted by Gluten Free Steve or buy some gluten-free oat mazto from the Shemura Oat Matzo website or at Unger's Kosher Bakery on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. 

Bread of affliction? Feh! Surprisingly delicious crispy, fried goodness? Well, now you're on to something...

(If you're pre-planning your gluten-free passover, make sure you check out Manischewitz's Gluten Free Product List - how cool is that??!) 

Completely Unhealthy, Amazingly Delicious Matzo Brei

9 - 12 Barkat Matzo crackers, broken in half
1 egg
2 - 3 Tablespoons of butter
salt to taste

Soak matzo crackers in a hot water bath for 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, beat an egg in a separate bowl. Drain the matzo, pressing it down, squeezing as much moisture from the
crackers as possible. Mix the egg into the matzo until thoroughly combined and coated. 

In a medium pan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Once it's melted, spread the matzo mixture evenly and thinly in the pan. Sprinkle the top with salt. Let cook until it browns (about 3 -4 minutes) and flip the matzo cake, either as one large slab (nearly impossible) or by breaking it into smaller, more manageable pieces. Break the matzo into desired amount of pieces, as the other side cooks, becoming brown and crispy, and salt again. 

Serve with fruit and yogurt to assuage some of the fried fruit guilt and enjoy. 
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