Friday, February 26, 2010

Blueberry Crisp!

As I was waiting in the check out line today I was doing what I usually do while waiting in check out lines, looking at the magazines. Not the tabloids or the gossip mags, but the food magazines. You know, those little booklets usually on the top of the rack, or the popular ones down below, Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, Taste of Home, etc. Since I tend to focus on anything having to do with home cooking I usually look for something with the words “comfort food” on the front. There it was, screaming out to me to buy it. A food magazine called “Best Comfort Food, Feed Your Soul!”. I had to buy it. I collect cookbooks. It’s my personal addiction. I have too many but just cannot resist.

This one was worth it. It is full of classic comfort food recipes. After fixing my evening meal I realized that I didn’t have anything for breakfast. This makes me also realize how much I focus on food. I remembered that I had seen a recipe in this magazine for Blueberry Crisp. I have a freezer full of frozen blueberries from last summer. They are delicious and just waiting to be eaten. I decided to try out this recipe converting the ingredients to gluten free. I am providing the recipe for you to try and am happy to report that this dish, whether you enjoy it as breakfast as I will, or as a dessert or snack, is wonderful. It is quick to throw together and bakes in 30 minutes. I substituted Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose flour for the flour as well as gluten free oats, which is a staple in my cupboard. I also substituted Smart Balance Spread for the butter. I love the taste of Smart Balance, it is gluten free, and cholesterol is a problem so I use this product whenever I can.

It is important to note that this dish hit the spot as we are in the midst of yet another blizzard here in PA. I can’t think of anything I would rather have on a blustery winter morning than a steamy bowl of blueberries with an oatmeal crumble topping. I added a picture, of the blueberries, not the blizzard. Happy baking!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

That Taste’s Really Good!

If you aren’t participating in a gluten free diet on a daily basis like those of us who have had the calling, then you might think what we must eat is bland, tasteless, unappealing, unappetizing, or any other negative word you can think of. Well, for your information, my gluten filled friend (or gluten free friend), a GF diet can be just the opposite. Of course, you see, I am completely biased in my opinion, as I have no choice but to be. Those of us with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance must live without wheat, rye and barley. It’s just a fact of our lives.

What this really means is that I’ve learned to make the best of it. Fortunately for me I love to cook and bake. It’s what I do. It’s how I de-stress. Needless to say, it was very difficult back in the day, to adapt to this diet. In the early 1990’s GF foods were almost impossible to find. They did not exist in local stores. I learned how to use the Internet and shopped there. Unfortunately I live in the east and most of what I found had to be shipped to me from the west coast. Often times I would order bread only to have it arrive about a week later. My initial excitement of finally being able to have anything made into a sandwich quickly turned into a huge disappointment. You see pre-baked products usually arrived with mold already growing. Double trouble. I am also allergic to mold. I once bought a whole case of GF crackers. Who doesn’t like or need crackers? Well, when I opened up that case fast and furious I discovered that these crackers were not crackers…they were odd shaped pieces of cardboard that no one could possibly eat. What was I thinking? Live and learn. That case sat in my basement cupboard for a really long time. I do believe the birds enjoyed it.

I bought cookbooks. I studied anything I could get my hands on to learn the art of gluten free cooking and baking. It is an art and I was determined to master it. Using gluten free ingredients cannot compare in any way to using wheat containing ingredients. GF flours do not react the same way to yeast, baking soda, baking powder, etc. But, if you are just learning, no need to panic. Really good cooks and bakers have perfected the whole process. You can find a huge variety of gluten free cookbooks on the market today. Early on for me, the only book I could find was called The Gluten Free Gourmet by Bette Hagman. For me, this was THE book. I use it today. It is my go-to cookbook. It is important to realize that for the gluten free cook, you just need to think differently. What this means is that you must pre-think each and everything you cook and bake. If you are using a GF cookbook and following the recipe (and the rules), no problem. But if you’re like me, you like to formulate your meal as you go, which can get a little tricky. You need to have GF staples on hand at all times. I am not much of a planner-ahead kind of girl. I do tend to fly by the seat of my pants at the end of the workday. I love the concept of 30-minute meals. I am one to throw pasta & veggies with broth & wine into a deep skillet and see what comes out. I always have artichokes, canned tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers in a jar and capers in the fridge. It’s all about flavor. Don’t forget spices. All kinds. And don’t be afraid to use them. Some of these ingredients might sound odd, but they will make your dish pop!

The point I am trying to make here is simply that GF cooking and baking is easy, or it can be, with a little practice and patience. You will have the occasional failed loaf of bread, cake or whatever. We all do, I still do. Just keep at it. Each try will get better.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's in Your Pantry?

Staples in my pantry include gluten free flour of course, usually Bob's Red Mill All Purpose. I keep rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch as well as a backup. Xanthan gum is a must.

It is important to know that gluten is hidden in so many foods. Some of these are licorice, soy sauce, malt vinegar, some flavorings, most processed foods, self-basting turkeys, some cold cuts, and many prepared stocks and soups. Vinegars and alcohols that are properly distilled should not contain any harmful gluten. However, if additives have been added after the distillation process, they can contain gluten. Gluten is also used as a binder in some pharmaceutical products so always check your prescriptions and can be the starch in unidentified food starch, modified food starch, caramel coloring, hydrolyzed plant or vegetable protein. It's also important to avoid products where the ingredients are questionable or are listed as simply "natural flavorings, flavor extracts, or spice extracts" since gluten may be used in processing them.

Most food manufacturers have toll-free customer service numbers and will gladly check on the source of these questionable ingredients. Until you are sure a product is gluten-free, it's best not to use it. Plain rice of all types (including wild rice), tapioca, potatoes, corn, and beans are safe for a gluten-free diet. Most celiac patients can also have soy products, except soy sauce which is usually fermented with wheat.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Food for Thought on Living GF

Some tips for gluten free living taken from "Living Gluten-Free for Dummies" by Danna Korn:

Focus on what you can eat - instead of thinking about the foods you can't have...focus on the foods you can eat, and put a special emphasis on those you especially enjoy.

Expand your culinary horizons with alternative foods - like quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet, buckwheat, acai, kefir and sorghum.

Enjoy an ethnic flair - many Asian cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean are often gluten-free, as are many Mexican and Indian dishes.

Tune into the benefits - focus on the reasons why being gluten-free is a good thing. You, unlike many people, have the key to better health - a gluten-free diet!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

So How Are You Dealing With Your Family and Friends?

When I first began to tell people I had Celiac Disease I had some pretty odd reactions. Most people had never heard of it. If they had they didn’t know what it meant. Most don’t want to ask, after all, it does have that word “disease” in it. It’s not catchy, doesn’t spread like the common cold or the flu and you can’t get it from anyone, anywhere. Except, probably, from your long passed grandparent, aunt, uncle or some other distant, or perhaps, close relative. Celiac is usually an inherited disease, in the same family of diseases as diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. All autoimmune diseases. It just means the body turns on itself. There are little soldiers inside beating each other up. The more gluten you take in the happier they are. I generally am amused at the reaction I receive when asked how I possibly EAT! My rheumatologist, who I have seen for all these years and who diagnosed me after several years of trying to figure out why this crazy lady had so many really odd symptoms that no one else has, still asks me how do I live without pasta. He knows I come from a large Italian family & have big Sunday suppers, mostly of pasta with homemade sauce and homemade everything else. People always say they know they couldn’t do it. Oh yes you can. I just think of the alternative and now I’ll never go back to “toxic” pasta and “illegal” bread. No way. You see, bloating, cramping, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, on and on, is always in the back of my mind. I can’t tell you how many times I have attempted to order a meal at a restaurant that I could somehow manipulate to be gluten free by the time it arrived at my table. There are no restaurants where I live with the words “gluten free” on the menu so I must prod the server for information related to what might be in the food I want to order. Since most people don’t know what I mean by gluten free, I just ask if it contains wheat. If there is nothing visible on the plate that looks like wheat the answer will always be no. Don’t blame the server, they don’t know they are deceiving you. Always follow that up with something like…is there gravy?….is it breaded?….have those fries been dusted in flour?….is there croutons on the salad? The reaction I usually get when I say that I can’t have bread is this…”oh, there’s no wheat in it, it’s white bread”. I don’t laugh, that would be rude. I just follow that up with, sorry, can’t have it. We Celiac’s will never be able to educate the masses on what it really means to live without gluten. We just have to accept that this is our job, no pay of course. When someone doesn’t get it, just smile and say no thanks, and order the salad with oil and vinegar and dress it yourself.