Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I do not want to become a culinary hermit!

Everyone loved my potato soup again today. I did get some. Mostly because I had it for breakfast. Mostly because there was nothing else I could eat (we do breakfast potluck, too)(yes, my job is awesome).

My gluten-free coworker was at my door at five till noon telling me to come to lunch. As I walked to the galley, several people stepped aside and told me to go ahead of them (the line forms quickly).

I was very careful to find out what was in everything I ate. Rebecca had read the labels of everything she put in the chicken salad. William and I looked up the sausage in the stuffed mushrooms, and it was specifically gluten-free. The meats were prepared with just olive oil and herbs. I was safe!

Not so much.

The only thing I can think of is cross-contamination. There was a lot of bread on the table, and a lot of dishes with bread crumbs or pasta. Maybe a spoon got used in the wrong dish. Who knows? Tomorrow I'll use a dedicated spoon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Better to let it out than keep it in. Good advice for both anger and gas. Especially appropriate in this situation.

Every year during Christmas week, we have potluck all week long at my work. This is the first year for me being gluten-free, so naturally I was concerned. To make sure I would be able to eat something, I decided to make sure there was something I made available each day.

Yesterday, I made a potato soup recipe I adapted from The Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana. It's basically potato soup with Italian sausage, garlic and Italian seasoning added. Last year it got some favorable comments, so I thought it would be well received.

It was. Very. By the time I got to the galley (what we call our kitchen - cool, huh?), it was all gone. A gallon of soup lasted less than a half hour. There wasn't much left of anything, really. There was some pasta salad that everyone said was good, and some breaded chicken wings. There were some veggies and dip, but the dip wasn't gluten-free. Not much help there.

I poured the dregs of the potato soup into a bowl, which yielded about four bites. There was a sweet potato casserole that I had already determined was safe, and there was one small, sad slice of meat.

I took the pitiful findings into the big meeting room where we all gather and made a beeline for the one woman I knew would understand. Lynn has a wheat allergy. She was sitting with Rebecca and Wanda. All of them are sweet, wonderful women. I sat down and started bawling.

I was so frustrated. I hate having to be so careful. I hate having to read every label. I hate having to spend five times the price for a frigging loaf of bread (even when I make it myself) than everybody else does. I said I was just going to give up and go back to being sick all the time. I just didn't want to have to care anymore.

Lynn held my hand and told me she understood, and I knew she did. Rebecca got up and gave me a big hug. At some point my boss came into the room, looked very uncomfortable and confused, and made a hasty retreat. I really must make sure to tell him tomorrow that he didn't do it.

As sat comiserating with Lynn, and she explained to the few other occupants of the room what the problem was, Rebecca came back in with a plate. She had sliced a tomato for me and added some of the olives and peppers that I had brought. Of course this kindness turned on the waterworks again, but I was very grateful.

Later on, I ran into our office manager, who complained that she had not gotten any of the soup, and she had been looking forward to it. After a moment, I remembered that I still had most of the ingredients to make more soup. She had the chicken stock there (we keep some basic soup ingredients in the galley in case of inclement weather), so I made some more soup tonight and will make sure I set some aside tomorrow.

I immediately felt better. It wasn't about lunch. It was about always having to go that extra mile. But ultimately, we're talking about a diet that is naturally healthier.

Since I can't use many processed foods, I have to make everything from scratch using natural ingredients. Win. Since I can't eat hardly any fast food, I don't eat any fast food. Win. Nowadays, I only shop the perimeter of the supermarket, which is where all the good-for-you stuff is. Win. I am determined to make this a plus.

Also a plus, our fleet mechanic gave out corporate gifts today. He gave me the most decadent chocolates I think I have ever encountered in my life (and no malt - I checked). Super awesome double-plus good Win.

No matter what ails ya', chocolate will fix it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks for Options

My sister and I just celebrated our first gluten-free Thanksgiving, and it was a huge success. I test drove my recipes last weekend, so I knew we'd have a great meal, but I was very pleased to find that my nephew, who is not gluten-free, enjoyed everything.

Pre-basted turkeys usually contain gluten, so we used my sister's coworker's recipe and brined our turkeys. I can't believe I have never heard of this! I brined and cooked a small turkey breast for myself, and it was the most moist and tender turkey I have ever tasted.

To make my sausage dressing, I used gluten-free bread made in my bread machine with Gluten Free Pantry Favorite Sandwich Bread mix from Kroger. I find Kroger to be a wonderful resource for us gluten-free folk. Many of their store brand products are gluten-free, and they have a good selection of gluten-free products in their Nature's Market section. They have a great page, too:

Anyway, I cut the bread into cubes and toasted it lightly and threw it into a big bowl (disclaimer: I did not literally throw the bread). I crumbled and cooked some bulk Kroger brand Italian sausage. When I cook sausage or ground meat, I always add some water to help break up the meat into smaller crumbles. For other uses, I drain the meat, but for dressing I leave the juices with the meat. I put all that into a bowl and then I sauteed chopped onions, celery, garlic and Italian seasoning in the same pan.

I mixed the bread cubes, sausage and drippings, onions, celery, et al, together, and added a little Kitchen Pantry (audio warning if you're reading at work, which none of us ever do, of course) chicken stock. I threw (not literally) it all into a pan and stuck it in the oven until it was browned.

So, that takes care of the turkey and dressing. Mashed potatos and sweet potato casserole were no problem, as all the usual ingredients are naturally gluten-free. We made our gravy with the turkey drippings and cornstarch.

One thing that was really important for us all was the green bean casserole. Since I have made homemade cream of mushroom soup before, I wasn't too worried, although the french fried onions are made with wheat. I googled 'green bean gluten free' (note the absence of quotatation marks, which could have limited my search to the words "Green bean gluten free" - damn all this newfangled technology!) and discovered that Funyuns are gluten-free, and they turned out to be a very good substitute.

Last but not least, the pie. I have always been the family pie baker, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I will, however, confess that I have not made a crust from scratch for decades. The Pillsbury refrigerated crusts are very good and have saved me a lot of labor over the years, but alas, they are anathema to the gluten intolerant.

I used Beth's All Purpose GF Baking Flour from Gluten Free Pantry (are you really going to make me link to it again? Have you even been paying attention?!) and followed the standard pie crust recipe in my Betty Crocker cookbook.

I tried rolling out the pastry, but it was way too delicate and I wound up just gently pressing it into the pie pan and spreading it out until it filled the pan. I pre-baked it for a little bit because I was afraid it would be soggy, but it wound up so crisp that I think that step may be unnecessary. All the other ingredients for Libby's pumpkin pie are gluten-free, and I followed the directions on the can.

I also made an apple crumble using Beth's flour (no, I will not link to it again, you lazy git!). I used my own recipe that I made up ages ago, and it worked out great. The only thing I left out was the oatmeal. I used to use the quick cooking oats, which I am avoiding now. I am ok with steel cut oats, but since they need more cooking time, I need to figure out how to include them. Suggestions are welcome in the comments.

I am a "that looks about right" kind of cook, so I can't really post specific recipes just now, but next time I make this stuff, I will write things down and post them. We generally make the same meal for Christmas, so I will post specifics then. In the meantime, post any questions in the comments and I will respond with either a comment or a post.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trader Joe's

A new Trader Joe's opened up really close to my work on Friday. I have been looking forward to it because I understand there are some good gluten free options to be had there. I picked up a couple of things, including a package of quinoa and some brown rice pasta, which I have read is a little less likely to disintegrate than the white rice version. We'll see.

Overall, I was just overwhelmed by the sheer nuumber of people in the store, so I really didn't have the patience to look as closely as I would have liked. Still, I walked away with the quinoa and pasta, along with a couple of ready made Thai and Indian lunches that I look forward to, so it's all good.

B'also, three buck Chuck. Bonus, expecially when you can't drink beer.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I can live like this

Last week I made plans with my mom to have lunch and then drive her to the airport for her awesome trip to Africa (color me totally jealous). When I got to her house she was unpacking everything for the umpteenth time so that she could put address labels on everything. She claimed she was not yet excited. Yeah, right.

Then we tried to figure out where to have lunch. What a pain in the ass this is turning out to be.

Between her house and the airport, we could not identify anywhere that we knew for sure was safe. We finally settled on supermarket sushi at Harris Teeter (lots of label reading, because not all of it was safe), with San-J soy sauce instead of the soy sauce that comes with the sushi. It turned out to be as delicious and satisfying a lunch as we could have at any restaurant.

This weekend I made so many meals that my freezer has now reached critical mass. I made a ground beef rice salsa cheese casserole thingy (definately on my Christmas week potluck recipe list), meatloaf (with gluten free bread crumbs I made myself) with mashed potatoes and green beans or brussels sprouts, steak burrito bowls with spicy steak, black beans and cilantro lime rice, and a citrus pork (rice)noodle recipe that I saw on tv this weekend and probably will not repeat.

Or if I do, it will be a lot zestier. Sometimes I forget that much of the US is really not so familiar with strongly seasoned foods. I thank my time living in South Texas and my years living with an extended Italian-American family for gifting me with an appreciation for well seasoned food.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's not even like it seemed like a good idea at the time

The sausage balls looked so good. I said to my co-worker, who is also gluten free, "I'm going to regret this." Then I put two on my plate. She had two little pigs-in-a-blanket, a specialty of our office manager. She had pulled the little hot dogs out and was just going to eat them until I pointed out that she had some cross-contamination from the bits of bread stuck to the wieners. She put down the wiener, and I ate the sausage balls (made from a Bisquick recipe).

And regretted it within an hour. I felt like shit and I felt like a moron. I blew up like a balloon, and I was in serious discomfort. Today is better, but I'm still seriously gassy.

I don't know why I would do that to myself! I knew what would happen. I said it as I was eating them. So WHY????? Was I somehow hoping for a different result?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I can do this.

The bread experiment turned out good. I made a toasted ham and cheese sandwich that was pretty tasty. I didn't much care for the crust, though. It was too crunchy.

Today I used some of the bread I made last weekend, especially the crust, to make Italian style breadcrumbs. I ground them up in my little food processor and toasted them. Then I added salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and parmesan cheese. It smells just like the breadcrumbs I used to use.

I just took a meatloaf out of the oven (btw, Heinz ketchup is safe), and I have some spinach-artichoke dip in the oven. I will spread it on my tasty gluten free bread.