Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There is Popcorn Everywhere . . .

Really. The floor of my car, under my desk, on my desk and I keep finding little pieces in my sweater. The cause of this sudden infestation of kernels? Little Lad's highly addictive Herbal Corn. Wow, this stuff is amazing.

I've been noticing this stuff in natural food stores for years and I was always a little skeptical. Popcorn with dill? It sounded a little weird to me. But, this Monday on our way back from Bethel and Portsmouth at the mandatory Portland Whole Foods stop to stock up on gluten-free chicken nuggets (me) and beer (Joe), it was a time to throw caution to the wind. We got the medium-sized bag of Herbal Corn. I think it was half gone by Freeport.

Little Lad's has locations in Cornith, Portland and, oddly enough, New York City. But, if none of those are convenient it can be recreated at home:

At Home Herbal Corn
  • 3/4 cup popcorn
  • 2-4 tablespoons of soybean oil or light vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (make sure it's GF!)
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
Coat popcorn with oil. Toss with yeast and then dill. Enjoy!

Friday, November 20, 2009

It Was A Lovely Evening

It was pretty much a perfect evening. Here's a photo recap:

Today, I made it home from work before 5:00 (gasp!) to this cuddler:

I love the tangy flavor of goat cheese, Joe's not so wild about it. Since he was out for the evening, I had chicken stuffed with goat cheese (keeping scrolling for the recipe) - yum!

Then I was super-productive. I did a load of laundry, painted my toenails bright pink and did some reading for my research paper.

While watching the Office, I made some excellent progress on my Christmas knitting.

And then, this dashing man came home!

Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese

  • One chicken breast, butterflied
  • about two ounces of herb goat cheese
  • one clove of garlic, minced
  • one handful of spinach, chopped
  • three basil leaves, chopped
  • two slices of sundried tomato, cut into small pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste
Combine the goat cheese, garlic, spinach, basil and tomato in a small bowl. After seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper, stuff it with the goat cheese mixture. Secure with toothpicks, if needed. Cook at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Delicious, quick and easy.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

If I Blog It, I'll Do It

Theoretically, of course.

I'm well into my second week of training for my first half marathon - 13.1 miles. Which is also, incidentally, the longest distance I've ever raced (5K being the old record) and training for it will mark the first time I've ever run more than 5 miles at once. Gulp.

Disclaimer: I'm not going to run it fast, I'm going to finish it. I never have been and never will be a fast runner.

The plan is to run the New Bedford Half Marathon on March 21, 2010. I'm using Hal Higdon's training regime, with a few repeated weeks since my marathon is more than 12 weeks away. I figured a slow start was a good idea. November has, surprisingly, turned out to be a good month for running. Relatively warm and, so far at least, no snow. So far, I'm really enjoying my training and, of course, the company of my running partner, Joe. November might seem like an odd time to set a major goal like running a half, perhaps better suited to a New Year's Resolution? Well, that's not how I roll. I've found that when I commit to a goal when the mood strikes me, rather than waiting for a prescribed holiday, I'm more likely to keep them. I'm feeling stronger and faster with each run, hopefully this trend will continue!

Things have been very busy the past few days and keeping me away from my blogging, but fortunately . . .

. . . we've enjoyed a series of spectacular sunsets. This one enjoyed from my front steps . . .

. . .and Madison has been supplying plenty of research help. Here she is making herself comfortable on my notes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

His & Hers

Or, gluten-full and gluten-free.

Internet, Joe and I are cohabiting. You may have gathered this from his constant presence in this blog, but now I'm confirming it. The Madison-cat seems to approve of the new arrangements. She enjoys lazing on the sofa, spying on birds and squirrels in our postcard-sized yard and carefully watching dinner preparations from atop the cabinets. A perch she does not expend her energy reserves to reach. Oh no, she informs us of her desire to lounge on the cabinets and we lift her onto the refrigerator - spoiled. She does, however, jump down of her own accord.

Living with someone you aren't related to presents certainly challenges, but the most obvious challenge for Joe and I is diet. And, it hasn't really been all that challenging. When we cook together, it's gluten-free. We have a lovely arrangement where he chops onions and cleans dishes while I handle the more complicated (and more fun!) aspects of cooking. Joe is very conscientious of my special diet needs and eats gluten-free without complaint. Sometimes we're cooking something that can easily be made gluten-free and gluten-full and since some GF products are so expensive (and it's easy, so why not?), I'll make two pots of spaghetti or two pizza crusts. Recently, we used this technique for spaghetti and meatballs. Just be careful to keep your gluten-full cooking separate from your gluten-free cooking!

Gluten-Free Meatballs

1/2 lb ground turkey
GF breadcrumbs (Gillian's are a good choice)
minced onion
minced garlic
very finely chopped fresh parsley
a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
fresh grated Parmesan cheese

No measurements, throw in the amount that looks good to you. Mix until just barely combined - don't overwork your meat! Shape into balls and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Pour a small amount of water over the meatballs and cook for 20-25 minutes (depending on the size of your meatballs). Remove from oven and add to a saucepan of simmering pasta sauce. Let simmer 10-15 minutes and serve over pasta. Garnish with more Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Joe's whole wheat pasta version

And my rice pasta version.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Product Review: Schär Pizza Crust

Moms are pretty great.

I'm especially appreciative of my Mom this week for discovering a new brand of gluten-free pizza crust, Schär is, according to the package labeling and I'm inclined to believe them, the number one producer of gluten free products in Europe. This pizza crust, which I have decided is the best pre-packaged GF pizza I've enjoyed, proves that claim. The crust has good flavor, but doesn't compete with the sauce, cheese and toppings. The texture is also very pizza-like and while it gets nice and crispy in the oven, it doesn't resemble biting into a piece of cardboard smoothered with cheese and toppings. It also gets extra points for convenience: the box includes two individually wrapped, shelf-stable pizza crusts. It doesn't need to be frozen! If you forget to defrost your crust in the morning, no big deal!

Here's a visual to aid your shopping and explore their website, it has great recipes, tips and more information about their products.

I paired it with sausage and fennel and I'm planning another pizza night for next week: carmelized onions, yum!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Christmas Comes Early

When I came home from DC and the NCHC Conference, 10 DAYS AGO (how is my life so crazy busy?), I was treated to a very early Christmas surprise: a new, pink laptop from Joe. He figured out and purchased the perfect Christmas gift very early and since I'd been feeling down about the prospect of another round of PhD applications and I hate, hate, hated my old laptop, he decided to cheer me up and motivate me with a brand new laptop - in my favorite color, he's such a good sport about my love of all things pink. So, lately, instead of blogging, I've been playing with my new toy. Can you blame me? Unlike my old machine, it doesn't take an hour to write a blog post. I'm loving my new photo editing software and just installed Endnote! I'm really thrilled with it (come on, it's pink!) and think it will not only motivate my research and grad applications, but also my blogging.

And Joe? I think he's kind of ok.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gluten-Free Baking: It's Not as Scary as it Seems!

Really, I promise.

Gluten-free baking seems so daunting. There's the xanthan gum, multiple flour varieties and the addition of really odd ingredients like vinegar, dough enhancer, and ricotta cheese. I used to be intimidated by it and avoided baking for myself whenever possible. And that was a shame because I love baking and GF baking isn't as hard as it seems.

I was brought back to my former timid GF baker self by our Thesis Coffee Break this past Wednesday. A few of our thesis writers also happen to be GF, since we were serving coffee, tea and gluten-full cookies and I didn't want anyone to be left out, I promised to bring some GF treats. One of our GF writers remarked she rarely had cookies because she couldn't figure out xanthan gum and usually her Mom baked for her. Now I am all for Mom-made GF goodies, in fact, my Mom makes some awesome GF molasses cookies from my great-grandmother's recipe that I never manage to blog about because they're always gone by the time I think to take a picture! Hey, if Mom can do it, so can you!

I made these Snickerdoodles using a recipe from Betty Crocker which I changed so slightly, I can't in good conscience post it here. But, what I did is a great starting point for the novice gluten-free baker: find a gluten-free flour mix that you like and just substitute it for the flour in the regular recipe. Yes, this is more expensive than mixing your own flours, but it's convenient and takes away the guesswork of using xanthan gum. I recommend Namaste's Prefect Flour Blend or Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix. Once you get the hang of things, they're also super-convenient for quick baking (like when you're making a batch of cookies on a Tuesday night and have a paper due the next day).

Some GF baking tips:

  • Embrace xanthan gum. A little goes a long way, most recipes need about a teaspoon. That little bag will last you a long, long time.
  • Use a variety of flours. This, actually, is the secret to good GF baking - the more flours, the better the results! Just rice flour is going to result in cookie crumbs. A good standard combination is rice flour and tapioca flour, but don't be afraid to experiment: potato flour, sorghum flour and cornstarch also produce great results. If mixing your own GF flour is too intimidating, find a mix you love and buy it in bulk on Amazon.
  • Fat. It has to be there. Xanthan gum and a variety of flours can't make up for the loss of gluten (which is mainly what holds baked goods together). The Snickerdoodles have shortening and butter. Many GF recipes call for a TON of butter. Cream cheese, ricotta cheese, yoghurt and sour cream can also work. You're GF baked goods won't often be healthy. Adopt Cookie Monster's revamped motto, "Cookies are a sometimes treat."
  • Experiment! There are so many GF bloggers posting great recipes. Try a few, gain some confidence and starting making your own!
Here's a few GF blogs I follow:
Gluten Free on a Shoestring
Elana's Pantry
Simply . . . Gluten Free
Gluten Hates Me

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Risotto Round-Up

It was Saturday evening, after the third batch of risotto in four days that I realized I was in a risotto rut. But, really, a risotto rut isn't such a bad place to be.

I'd always been intimidated by the concept of risotto from scratch. Terrified, in fact, by the prospect of straying away from my stirring duties for just one moment and returning to a ruined pot of risotto. It was a shame really, because I love risotto and the most fabulous varieties don't seem to come in a box! It was the discovery of pumpkin risotto on Foodbuzz that finally convinced me to attempt risotto making - and I'm so glad I finally did!

Now, it seems to me, the secret to good risotto is commitment. You just have to accept that for the 30-40 minutes it takes to cook, you won't be going very far from the stove. But, it smells ah-mazing the whole time, kind of makes up for that.

The risotto making was also a good chance for Joe to see all of my type-A tendencies on full view - he might as well know what he's getting into!

First, we measured and set out all the ingredients. It was super-neurotic, but made the risotto making much smoother.

Then, after the triple confirmed all the ingredients were ready, we started cooking.

Wednesday night, we made Pumpkin Risotto with Thyme and Scallops from the Streaming Gourmet. It was absolutely divine - very, very highly recommended! The combination of the pumpkin (which was very subtle for those who perhaps don't love pumpkin the way I do), thyme and scallops was delicious. I made one small change to this recipe, I switched one cup of chicken stock for one cup of white wine. I believe risotto should always include wine (actually, I think that about most things!). All pumpkin lovers should check-out this blog: 31 days of pumpkin recipes to celebrate October!

Friday, minus Joe because he hates mushrooms and was off gallivanting in the woods ROTC-style (no, I did not exclude him from the risotto making for his limited palate), I made Mushroom Risotto, this time discovered on We Are Not Martha. It was divine. The sauted mushrooms garnish was absolutely brilliant. I very happily enjoyed this for lunch the next two days.

Saturday, - again minus Joe who, although he grew up mostly in Georgia, dislikes sweet potatoes! - I made Sweet Potato Risotto. Maybe it's a New England Yankee prejudice, but I always imagined all Southerners loved sweet potatoes. This recipe was also found on Foodbuzz and while I was excited by the concept of this recipe, I was not thrilled by the execution. I followed the recipe, but the sweet potatoes never had a chance to fully cook. If I make this again, I'll definitely pre-cook the potatoes before adding them or even follow a similar method as the Pumpkin Risotto (did I mention that was so, so good?).

I'm taking a break from risotto making for a week or two at least, but now that I've learned it isn't quite as complicated as I originally thought, I'll be enjoying homemade risotto on a regular basis. Especially as it keeps getting colder here in Maine, risotto seems like perfect cold weather comfort food.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't be a Grouch!

I'm inclined to get grouchy if I don't eat regularly and, for me, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. I can't start my day off on the right foot without something in my stomach. But, my mornings are also super busy between getting ready for work, squeezing in a run and my non-morning person persona. I need something grab and go.

Recently, I've been reading about this smoothie all over the blog world. It seems any blogger who is anyone enjoys a green monster in the morning. I was definitely skeptical about the addition of spinach (the green that lends its hue to the smoothie's name), despite assurances that you can't taste the spinach. But, they were blogs I trust and I was curious, so I decided to try the green monster. Now it's become part of my morning routine. It's filling, easy to enjoy at my desk and, major bonus points here, it's healthy. I changed the ingredients slightly to fit my taste and my nalgene, it appears below. Disclaimer: I can taste the spinach, but I kind of like it - makes it seem more healthy.

Rachel's Green Monster

3/4 cup vanilla soy milk
3/4 cup orange juice
2-3 handfuls of spinach
large dollop French Vanilla yogurt (I like Stoneyfield Farms)
1/2 cup frozen berries

Blend and enjoy!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gluten-Free in the City

Over Columbus Day weekend, Joe and I hopped on a plane for a couple days in New York City. That sentence makes it sound like a spur-of-the-moment adventure, but it wasn't. It was (we thought) a carefully planned trip of sightseeing and theater.

It wasn't.

Friday, October 2nd will now forever be remembered as the anniversary of our first fight. The Reader's Digest version: because Joe had booked our hotel in Laguardia and hadn't deciphered the subway system and just when exactly was I supposed to have time to do that? On the plus side, we did discover that my sister can very conveniently experience Hispanic culture by traveling to New York rather than, say Puerto Rico. And I was hungry and tired, those were pretty big factors in the genesis of our fight. It wasn't a very dramatic fight, people passing us on the sidewalk probably didn't realize our fighting couple status. It mostly consisted of angry walking, a lot of angry walking from Union Square to 248 Broome Street. Which is a mile and a half, in case you were wondering. No words were exchanged, except when Joe asked if I was ok and I glared at him. I just keep walking because I knew I was headed towards these:

Chocolate/chocolate and vanilla/chocolate gluten-free cupcakes from Babycakes. I'd like to say we ate these cupcakes and completely forget all our problems because I'd like Babycakes to get that sort of word of mouth advertising, but that wouldn't be entirely true. They weren't all-problem-solving delicious, but they were delicious nonetheless. The frosting was richly chocolatey and the cakes themselves were moist and well flavored. The vanilla had too much lemon flavoring for a so-called vanilla cupcake, but if they had called it a lemon cupcake, I would have been delighted.

We hadn't wanted to visit Mozarelli's Friday evening, a pizza place with both gluten-free and gluten-full pizza I've been reading raves about on other blogs, but they were closed by the time we got there! So, we had to save that eating adventure until Saturday lunchtime. When we entered, the cashier very apologetically told us only the GF pizza was available because they were having trouble with the other oven - perfect! I enjoyed spinach and mushroom and three cheese while Joe dined on two more carnivorous options, pepperoni and sausage. The crust was the best GF crust I've ever eaten, great texture and flavor - I wish it was closer!

Mozarelli's also carried fabulous cookies (which I neglected to photograph) from My Dad's Cookies. We grabbed a package of raspberry sandwich cookies and some chocolate dipped cookies. If the pizza had sucked, these cookies would have made it worth the trip.

Saturday evening we ran back to our hotel to get all gussied up for an evening of theater. We saw the revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center and it was FANTASTIC. Before the show, we had dinner at O'Neals' and it was also FANTASTIC. Both Joe and I ordered the grilled black angus sirloin and arrived grilled to perfection with grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes that tasted just slightly of bleu cheese (more cheese and it would have been perfect). Apparently, although I don't really remember this, I chose this restaurant based on their dessert menu and I did an excellent job. The creme brulee was perfect (but not photogenic) along with espresso.

After dinner, we walked over to Lincoln Center for South Pacific which was absolutely wonderful. If you get the chance to see it, jump on it! Someone enjoyed it SO much he may or may not have purchased a South Pacific key chain.

(Yeah, he totally did.)

We ended the evening with a quick trip to Times Square. We were in NYC afterall and we felt like we just had too.

We rounded the evening by getting Joe a hot dog in Times Square. Luckily, I don't have any ketchup accidents to report.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Restaurant Review & Giveaway!

About a week ago Joe and I traveled down to Boston to meet up with Joe's BFF, Neil (I suspect both Neil and Joe would want me to mention they don't use that acronym, but I do and it is entirely fitting). A few weeks earlier, while enjoying lunch at Anello's Gluten-Free Cafe, I overheard the owner and a patron talking about a GF restaurant in Boston's North End. Now, generally I subscribe to the old adage that eavesdroppers seldom hear anything good of themselves, but in this case I overheard something very good for my stomach. Meeting Neil in Boston was a great excuse for dinner at Nebo. Plus, I'd been looking forward to meeting Neil and I just so happen to enjoy Boston.

Nebo was . . . sophisticated with a menu and price point to match, but I have declared it completely worth it. We arrived just after opening and they already didn't have any tables for three left (I love to see a GF restaurant that's also popular)! So, we ended up sitting at the bar, which was perfect. From our seats we could see into the kitchen (which was immaculate - Nebo is not exclusively GF, but I wasn't worried about cross-contamination) and when Joe and Neil started talking about boring Army stuff (yawn), I was perfectly content to watch the bartenders mix drinks.

The service was friendly and they were very conscientious about my dietary restrictions. The gluten-free menu was extensive, almost a complete replica of the regular menu. Ordering GF was slightly more expensive, $3 to substitute GF pasta and $4 for GF pizza crust. And the food was delicious, the GF pizza crust was amazing!

For starters, Joe and Neil shared calamari. All the fried food was GF, so while I don't particularly care for calamari - too fishy - I tried some for the sake of my blog. The bread was light and crisp, the mediterranean aioli was a welcome departure from the usual cocktail sauce and the calamari tasted like squid, per usual.

This is a dreadful picture, the lighting at Nebo was not meant for photography, but you can see Joe's gluten-full pizza with fried egg topping. Which is, apparently, the greatest pizza topping ever. He won't eat perfectly normal and ordinary foods like onion, but he was very excited about the egg pizza - weird. And you can also see Neil putting some of his order, seared sea scallops with a light mascarone cream sauce, on a dish for Joe to try. I don't think he tried (picky), but it was very bro-mantic all the same. In honor of Joe and Neil and their bro-mance, I'd like to direct you to this YouTube clip.

Left to my own devices, I selected the prosciutto e fichi pizza (fig, prosciutto, gorgonzola, rosemary and mozarella) for the gluten-free pizza that was mine, mine, mine. It was absolutely delicious. The combination of the sweet fig, salty prosciutto and tangy gorgonzola was phenomenal.

It was gluten-free heaven. Definitely some of the best Italian food I've had in a very long time. The rest of our visit in Boston was also great with a stroll of the Freedom Trail and a quick stop to visit John, Paul and Sam (Hancock, Revere and Adams that is. We're historians, hence the first name basis), an unsuccesful attempt to take a tour of the Sam Adams Brewery (another time for sure) and a hair-rising car ride through Boston to Harpoon Brewery's Octoberfest.

In fact, it reminded me of the many times exploring Boston with family as a kid - trips to the USS Constitution, Science Museum, etc. Which leads me to the giveaway! Boston reminds me of being a kid and so do . . . fruit snacks! I distinctly remember being slightly jealous of my friends because my Mom never bought fruit snacks. But thanks to the friendly folks at My BlogSpark and Betty Crocker, I have two boxes of yummy fruit snacks now newly guaranteed gluten-free and a prize package including two boxes of fruit snacks, a frisbee, pick-up-stix and one very cool light-up yo-yo that my cat adores.

To enter, leave a comment with your favorite childhood snack! I'll pick the winner next week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Simple Things: GF Fried Clams

Every so often, when someone discovers I can't eat gluten, they ask me what I miss the most. It's a hard question to answer. For one thing, it changes depending on my mood and, for another, I don't like to dwell on the foods I miss- it's hard enough already sticking to a GF diet! The foods I miss change depending on my mood. Often I really miss donuts, Boston Creme was my favorite. And I definitely miss pie crust, I'm still working on perfecting a GF version. Another is chicken nuggets (stay tuned for the results to my search for the best GF chicken nuggets!) and - well, I guess I could go on and on . . .

This summer I was really missing fried clams. I grew up in coastal Maine and fried clams seem like an integral part of summer. There's something about Maine, summer and the ocean that demands fried clams- or lobster rolls. I'd contemplated asking Santa for a deep fryer this Christmas, something that would help with the fried clams and the donuts (something I'm definitely still considering!), but we stumbled upon a more immediate solution. At my brother's graduation celebration dinner at the Kennebec Tavern in Bath, we discovered they use a rice flour batter for their calamari. That got our wheels turning and we decided to ask the kitchen staff if they could make me some gluten-free fried clams. The answer: yes!

So, a few weeks ago, I finally ate some gluten-free fried clams. They weren't quite as good as the gluten-full original (always the case), but they were a pretty good substitute and I was completely thrilled to enjoy something as simple as fried clams again. I'll definitely be calling ahead to order these again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A GF Adventure: Hiking Mount Katahdin

I have been a very bad blogger.

The academic year has started and I'm still trying to figure out how to balance a full-time job, a graduate course and my hobbies. Unfortunately, blogging has been neglected. I'm hoping to be better in the future!

Over a month ago, Joe and I climbed Mount Katahdin. It was a once in a lifetime experience- because no amount of cajoling will ever convince me to go back (Asthma, a twisted ankle and running out of water did not make for a happy hiker)! Well, maybe not. Women have a hormone that helps them forget the pain of pregnancy and perhaps I have a similar hormone that helps me forget the pain of hiking, a month later it doesn't seem so bad. The feeling of accomplishment reaching the submit (and reaching the parking lot- I've never been so happy to see Joe's ugly car) and the views were amazing - none of my pictures do them justice.

Luckily, I packed plenty of GF treats to keeping me going and I needed the snack incentive when the going got tough!

Here's the recap:

We started out bright and early, but not early enough and Hunt Trail was the only option.

Snack #1: Peanut Butter Cookie Larabar! I'm a big fan of Larabar for their gluten-freeness and yummy flavors. I especially love how I can always count the ingredients on one hand, so rare and so much easier label reading. For instance, the Peanut Butter Cookie bar contains peanuts, dates and salt. So simple. So good.

The scenery really was gorgeous. This is about half-way up. Please note the cloud shaped like a duck.

Snack #2: The old standby, Luna Bar, in Toasted Nuts and Cranberry. Like the Larabar, I enjoy Luna Bars for their gluten-freeness and yummy flavors. I also like reading the back of my bar for some inspiration. Favorite flavor: Chocolate Raspberry!

None of my pictures do it justice, you might just have to climb Katahdin yourselves!

My summit sandwich. Thoughts of this declicious sandwich concotion kept me going the whole way up (I guess Joe helped a little too, maybe) and it's probably the best sandwich I've ever had. Turkey, goat cheese, cucumber and spinach on GF Bakehouse Sandwich Bread.

There aren't any pictures for the way down, because I really wasn't having any fun anymore and didn't feel any picture inspiration. After we left the summit, it didn't take me very long to twist my ankle and the rest of the way was very slow going. I'm starting to remember why I swore I wouldn't do it again . . .
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