Thursday, July 23, 2009

Eastside Mexican Food Just Got Easier: Don Tequila

I've lived around the corner from Don Tequila for about a near now, and still hadn't eaten there. Sure I like Mexican food, but being a vegetarian celiac in the land of cheese, rice, tortillas, and well, more cheese is not only calorie crazy version of dinner but decidedly heart unhealthy one. Plus, like so many of you, I have a fragile tummy and there's only so much sour cream or guacamole I can eat before I can eat no more (it's about five bites, if you're keeping count).

Sure, authentic Mexican is great, veggie laden, full of protein rich beans, but authentic Mexican food is harder to find than it's Americanized, cheese covered cousin. But this isn't about bad Mexican food, it's about good Mexican food, it's about Don Tequila on Green Road in University Heights.

Taking over Jack's Deli's old space, this unassuming Mexican restaurant has thrived where once a Jewish deli reigned supreme. Their menu is extensive and options plentiful (so you can your dinner, and smoother it in cheese too, should you wish). Best of all, though there is certainly a language barrier, they very clearly understood me when I said "I have a serious allergy to flour. Corn is okay but no flour. Can I eat this?"

Sometimes, when I get the head nod or when waiter assures me something "will be fine", I just don't feel so secure. You've had similar experiences, no? You want to believe them that those corn chips really are just corn, but your gluten-free paranoia takes over and suddenly your sipping water and pushing food around your plate to make it look like you've eaten something. We've all been there. Sure, I was worried, too, but when I ordered spinach enchiladas (actually filled with spinach, not gobs of cheese with a bit of spinach mixed in), I double checked to make sure the sauce didn't have flour in it, too.

"Oh. Yeah, enchilada sauce is made with flour," the waiter with a sudden wash of understanding of just how pervasive the whole wheat allergy thing is. I bit my lip trying to figure out how to navigate the menu, not being sure what was safe."Don't worry. We'll just put another sauce on it. One with no flour." With that, he took my menu. Problem solved!

When my food arrived - smothered in a delicious green sauce - it was not only gluten-free goodness, but one great meal. Actually two great meals, considering I took my leftovers home and had 'em for lunch! Not bad a bad deal for $6.75, not a bad deal at all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Date with Date-Nut Bread

A little more new business: I got a few emails this week from confused readers who weren't sure why the "Essential Gluten Free In Cleveland" links (the ones I talked about last week that organized information on gluten-free restaurants in Cleveland by Eastside & Westside and highlighting grocery stores and bakeries on a right hand side bar) weren't showing up in the emails they received on last week's post.

Thing is, those super cool emails you get are just the post itself email to your inbox. However, to access the links - as well as see lists of my favorite gluten-free websites, cleveland websites, and see all past posts and recipes - you'll need to visit the actual site. Sorry for the confusion and I hope this clears it up!

And now, back to the food...Sometimes, my best ideas come to me right before I go to sleep. Laying in bed, my head resting on the cool pillow, my limbs tangled up in blankets that will surely be kicked to the floor by the time the night is through, I have often wished the notepad I keep on my night stand was just a little bit closer so I could just write that last thought down before...I...fall....asleep....zzzzz.

Sigh. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don't. Somedays I spend all morning trying to remember that character arc or snappy joke, and somedays I hardly remember my 3am moments of genius happened at all. Sure if it's for my actual work, the idea has a 50/50 chance of being gone forever, but if I fall asleep recipe planning? Oh you'd better believe my brain sticky noted that craving to the forefront of my memory, demanding attention the very moment I wake up.

My meaning? Some people fall asleep counting sheep, I fall asleep counting cups of sugar... and this morning, I woke up wanting to add that sugar to the same recipe I dreamed up last night: date-nut bread.

Date-nut bread is perfect brunch fare. Shmeered with cream cheese and served up with a nice fruit salad, there is maybe no better accompaniment to your Sunday morning news programs, your magazines, or your trashy VH1 shows. And yet, since my gluten-free diagnosis, I haven't had a single slice of date-nut goodness. What's up with that?

Things gotta change. For you and me. Date-nut bread style.

Date-Nut Bread
changed ever so slightly from Allrecipes

1 packed cup chopped and pitted dates
2 - 3 Tablespoons Earth Balance Butter (or regular butter), softened
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water

2/3rd cup sugar
1/2 cups chopped walnuts
2 eggs
1 & 1/2 cups all purpose GF flour
3/4 teaspoon xanthum gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 8x4 inch loaf pan.

Combine baking soda, dates, and butter in a medium sized bowl and cover with boiling water. Stir and let sit for fifteen minutes.

Mix sugar, walnuts, and eggs into the bowl, followed by the flour, baking powder, xanthum gum, and salt. Pour the mixture into your pre-greased and floured loaf pan and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes. (I give you a huge time gap here because I let mine cook 42 minutes and it burnt!! It was nearly done at 30 minutes - the toothpick came out clean everywhere but directly in the center - and I foolishly trusted myself to remember to pull it out of the oven 5 minutes later, without adjusting the time. The smell of just-starting-to-burn date bread reminded me it was time to it to pull it out!!)

Let cool at least 10 minutes before removing it from the loaf pan. Now I know the temptation to have a piece of fresh from the oven bread is quite overwhelming (I succumb too, I admit it!), and sure it is good then, but wrapping it up in cling wrap, letting it sit overnight, makes it great. Besides, cutting into this moist, just sweet enough, nutty loaf is a perfect way to begin any morning.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Roasted Vegetable & Chickpea Salad

A little new business. You might've noticed this site has been through a little revamping. The layout has literally had a 180 degree swap, making it more readable and there's even a search bar to make ingredient / recipe / eatery inquires that much easier for you.

Course, that's not the exciting part. Okay, it's one of the exciting parts, but it's not the most exciting part. You see, I get lots of emails from people asking me where they can eat when they visit Cleveland. Which is very cool by me (thanks people!), and I always do my best to toss out some new ideas (or give them directions to one of those cross country, gluten-free friendly chains) in addition to sending them a direct link to the restaurant label on the this site. Admittedly, I feel a little silly doing this, but as my best source, most consolidated form of information, it's the most helpful...right? That plus the fact that sometime life intercedes and I miss responding to some of the nice people who want to know where to get a bite to eat made me realize this site was in need of a bit of an overhaul to be even more of a user friendly resource.

Ta da! The "Essential Gluten Free In Cleveland" was born (ie, that nifty list of links on your left). Hope this helps streamline things, folks, though don't think this is closing the door on emails, I'm still just a mouse click away.

Anyway, back to the food....

I know there's been a lot of talk of baking 'round here, but I eat actual food, really I do. Vegetable filled, good for you, savory dishes. In fact, in some circles, I'm known for 'em. ....And by circles, I mean anyone whose showed up to the same holiday pot luck I have, wrinkled their nose at my surprisingly unattractive dish, only to ask for the recipe by the time I catch them scraping the remnants from the emptied bowl.

With the perfect blend of lemony acidic tang, sharp garlic, and smooth olive oil complementing beautiful summer veggies, this roasted vegetable and chickpea salad is a crowd pleaser - even if those crowds include people who don't particularly love vegetables or chickpeas.

I came across it two Christmases ago - apparently trying to make the most Sephardic Jewish dish I could possibly bring to a decidedly non-Jewish occasion - while flipping through my favorite cookbook, the now out of print Ultimate Vegetarian Cookbook. While, sadly, this book evaporated somewhere between post college pack up and moving back to Cleveland, this recipe, at least survived the move. Good thing, too, because from Christmases, Passovers, and Fourth of July barbecues, this recipe has served me in serving up a yummy dish. (There are used version of the book available on Amazon, and buying one is always on the bottom on my to do list. ...Though I suppose singing the virtues of this book and directing you all where to get it ought to inspire me to get my copy while I can....)

Because it yields so very much food, it really is a perfect bring-it-to-a-party dish. This salad is so good, you certainly don't need a special occasion to make it. Plus, it keeps in the fridge for a good three days. Besides, with it finally just now getting warm this summer, who couldn't use another amazing summer salad in their repertoire?

Roasted Vegetable & Chickpea Salad
From The Ultimate Vegetarian Cookbook

1 lb butternut squash cubed
2 red pepper, halved
4 slender eggplant cut in half, lengthwise
4 zucchini cut in half, lengthwise
4 onions, quartered
1 Tablespoon olive oil (for brushing)

2 10 oz cans of chickpeas
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, divided
1/3rd cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice, more or less as desired
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 425. Spray a baking tray with baking spray and arrange the vegetables evenly over the surface. Brush evenly with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes or until they are tender.
Brush baking tray w/ oil and arrange vegetables brushed with oil evenly. Bake 40min or until Remove from the oven and let them cool until you can handle them.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/3rd cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, and half of the parsley. Set dressing aside.

Remove the skin of the peppers and chop; chop remaining vegetables into bite-sized chunks. Mix into the chickpeas, toss with dressing, and let sit for 30 minutes. (This is actually super important, do not skimp on the time!) If bland, season to taste with an additional tablespoon of lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper; the acidic zing will quickly spark your salad, honest. Sprinkle remaining parsley over the top before serving.

Eat as is, or enjoy over toast. (I prefer Whole Foods Gluten Free Bake House's Prairie Bread, how 'bout you?)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Girl Blueberry Muffins

About a week after my biopsy confirmed my neurologist's suspicion that I needed to be on a gluten-free diet, I remember stopping into my gastroenterologist's office for a quick check up. I was still having stomach pains, and was frustrated that going gluten-free hadn't magically evaporated all my problems. (Of course, the stomach takes a little time to heal, but I'm a bit off an impatient girl.) Worse still, I worried that giving up gluten was going to snowball until all the foods I loved were thoroughly off limits.

"I don't know if this celiac thing is the only thing going on," I sighed, sitting woefully on the exam table, "I mean my stomach still hurts a lot. Do you think I'll have to give up coffee, soon, too?"

He smiled and shook his head, "Dana. You don't drink alcohol. You don't do drugs. You're a vegetarian. You don't eat wheat. You're allowed to have one vice."

Hear that tummy? Starbucks, ho!

I'll admit it, I follow the straight and narrow like it's my job. Everyone laughs when I tell that story, Your one vice would be coffee. In my defense though, my supreme weakness, pumpkin spice lattes, are pretty gosh darn, dog-gone sinful.

So if coffee is the one and only way I pollute my system, it would go to follow that I handle stress in a similarly compulsive yet decidedly nondestructive way: baking. Ever see that Boy Meets World episode where Cory's crazy grandmother (as played by Rue McClanahan) drives her winnebago into town, promises to take Cory to get a baseball card signed, and then fails to show up because she goes to a poker tournament? Instead of telling him Grandma isn't coming, Cory's mom spends the whole day baking with him and, sure, Cory isn't fooled by the time they pulled the 8,000th muffin tray from the oven, but it did pass some of that stress time, right? (Plus Cory and his dad share a bonding moment over crazy Grandma's flaky yet virtuous heart. Then Rue shows up and apologizes and Cory learns to accept his grandma for who she is. And they have 8,000 muffins. Win, win, win.)

Anyway, Saturday night I was decidedly stressed out. I was pacing around the house trying to out run my stress, stressed. I was rearranging my room to take my mind off my stress, stressed. I was I need to bake but I have no eggs so I guess I'm going to the 24 hour Giant Eagle to buy ingredients at 11pm, stressed.

But you know what, when I stress bake everyone wins: recipe for you, muffins for me.

Coffee and muffins, man I'm trouble. Mother's of the world, lock up your sons!

Bad Girl Blueberry Muffins

6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) Earth Balance Spread (or butter), melted and cooled
2/3rd cup skim milk
1 egg
1 cup of sugar

1 1/2 cups GF flour mix
3/4 teaspoon xanthum gum
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon Expandex (fully optionally)
1 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, divided
1 - 1 1/2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (more or less as desired)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin tin with liners.

Whisk together melted (cooled) butter), milk, sugar, and egg in a medium bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk flour, xanthum gum, baking soda, baking powder, salt, Expandex, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon until well combined. Add the dry mixture into the wet, about a third at a time, stirring in between each addition. When mixed, stir in most of the walnuts (reserving a Tablespoon or two) and gently fold in blueberries. Swirl in extra 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon if you're so inclined (I was!).

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cups and stud those bad girl muffins with the remaining chopped walnuts. (Don't they look totally hardcore?)

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Red, White, & Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

I know this is a fair bit late as far as Fourth of July recipes go, but you'll forgive me, right? After all, I come baring gifts...fruit, creamy, cookie crumbly gifts. Cheesecake bars. Who doesn't like a girl with cheesecake bars?

I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to trying new things in the kitchen. I can't help
it, I see every mini party or afternoon guest a great opportunity to try out a new recipe. Every invitation to dinner is like an invitation to my own personal Food Network Challenge. Some in my position would dust off a tried and true recipe, spending time choosing favorite gluten-free cake that has established itself as a pastry the gluten-eaters in my life have already loved rather than working on something new. But no. I like to make things difficult.

So completely from scratch patriotically themed cheesecake bars? No sweat. With ingredients not bought until T-minus 5 hours to party time? Not a problem. I might like to make things difficult, but I don't like to make difficult things, and lucky for me, these some assembly required bars were actually pretty easy to put together.

Cheesecake has always seemed daunting, but this one was assembled all in one bowl. One bowl?! You mean I get cheesecake and a mini scale clean up? Sold.

The best part about these cheesecake bars is that they didn't taste gluten-free. Not one little "Waiter, is there a navy bean in my cheesecake?" little bit. I mean, just look at that crumbly crust! When my mom's gluten-eating friend asked me for the recipe at her husband's insistence, well I knew I had unbridled cheesecake type success on my hands.

Summer tis the season for outdoor get togethers. Hot weather just begs for eating outdoors, grilling, and tempting fruity desserts. People may think dessert means chocolate, it might be what they say that want, but set out a plate of fruity, creamy, lemony bars and they'll disappear every time, trust me.

Red, White, and Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

1 box Cherrybrook Kitchen GF Vanilla Graham Mini Cookies
4 tablespoons of Earth Balance (or butter) melted
2 Tablespoons of sugar
1/8 teaspoons of salt

12 oz neufchatel or lowfat cream cheese
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2/3rd cup sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1 cup fresh blueberries (more or less as desired)
1/2 cup chopped strawberries (more or less as desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch pan (or a 5x9 inch pan) with aluminum foil, lightly greased with cooking spray.

In a blender, blend the cookies in the blender a quarter of a package at a time, until the cookies are ground into a fine crumb. Pour in to the bowl with melted butter and mix in salt and the 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Press the mixture firmly over the bottom of the pan to make an even layer of cookie crumb and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, beat neufchatel until fluffy with an electric mixture, adding the eggs one at a time. Beat in sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest until fully combined.

Spread the cheesecake mixture over the top of the crust. Scatter berries evenly and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until you touch the center of the cheesecake and find it just set.

Let cool for 10 minutes before placing in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. When completely cooled, cut bars and lift them from the aluminium foil covered pan and onto a serving plate. (Or transfer bars before cutting, if easier.) Share and enjoy! :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Let Them Eat Gluten-Free Cake!

Who doesn't like a good celebration?

Fancy clothes (or plain Jane blue jeans if it's more your style), balloons, friends and family, and yummy, yummy food. That's right, I said it, yummy, yummy food. Just cause you're celiac doesn't mean you can't enjoy your special day with gluten-free style. And just cause it's gluten-free, your cake doesn't have to be dry, dense, and oddly potato flavored.

As previously mentioned, hot tipper Tonia found herself a great gluten-free wedding cheesecake courtesy of helpful baker Lydia at Celene's Cuisine. Since then, I've been lucky enough to be contacted by not one, but two equally helpful readers anxious to connect their gluten-free brethren with scrumptious special event cakes.

If you're in the Northeast Ohio area and your looking for a traditional wedding cake, then have I got a lead for you. Thanks to hot tipper Vicki who shared her lovely wedding photos with me, I learned that White Flower at La Place in Beachwood makes gluten-free wedding cakes! As I so often write this blog from the Caribou Coffee that stares into White Flower Bakery, you can well imagine how I kicked myself for not following my instincts to walk the 50 feet from the coffee house to the bakery and inquire about the possibility of gluten-free baked goods!

No matter, Vicki thankfully did the oh so hard work of test driving White Flower for me. Of her cake, Vicki says:

The cake changed every other tier from lemon with raspberry and cocoa with ganache. I brought Marianne from white flower in a picture I saved of a cake because I thought the flowers were gorgeous. She recreated the cake into a style I loved! My favorite thing about my entire wedding was my cake!! A tad pricey, but so worth it!!!

If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is. And with such a beautiful storefront, it's not surprising that White Flower would create a towering cake that is a true work of art. On top of being so
beautiful, it sounds absolutely delicious. What more could a girl ask for at her wedding? (Other than a groom, but a pretty cake like that, a husband become just a wee bit optional, no? Just me?) [[Edited to add: 3 years later, White Flower tells me they no longer make GF cakes.]]

Just a little west of Northeast Ohio? Fear not readers, because thanks to hot tipper and baker extraordinaire Kristen you literally can have your cake and eat it to. Kristen is the owner and baker of The Gluten-Free Bread Factory in Toledo, Ohio - the name alone makes me want to trek out of Toledo for a visit. Lucky for me, and you, Kristen does a lot of her business online. You can order her bread mixes from the comfort of your couch, and after you get them, you can eat them from the comfort of your couch, too!

Lucky enough to live in the Gluten-Free Bread Factory's area and have a birthday coming up? Kristen makes cakes for gluten-free boys and girls of all ages. Just contact her at kristen [at] theglutenfreebreadfactory [dot] com for more information.
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