Sunday, March 29, 2009

gluten-free finds: March

It has been nearly a month since I had been officially diagnosed with Celiac Disease. During this past month, I have had a wonderful time investigating the gluten-free foods that are out there to supplement the fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy in my diet.

I have made many interesting finds and decided to do a blog post at the end of each month to share these finds with all. Even if you may not have a gluten intolerance,
some of these products are indeed worth a taste.
I will be sharing my opinions of the overall taste, textures and rating the products.
Included will be pricing, sources and if possible an internet address for those of you that may not live near mega-marts or big-box stores where these were available in my area.

Sometimes a girl needs some pasta and some pancakes…!

Trader Joe’s gluten-free pancakes

I bought these pancakes in the hopes that they would be better than some of the gluten-free baked products that I have taste tested in the last month. I am glad to report that they did not disappoint.

These pancakes come frozen in cello packages of 3 and there are 4 packages per box.
I either take a package out the night before and defrost them overnight in the chill chest or defrost right before use in my microwave. Then I pop them in the toaster until they are heated through. They come out light, slightly spongy and with a nice crispy exterior.

They are truly delicious with a splash of Maple Syrup, a drizzle of Agave nectar or honey, your favorite preserves, and I know that I will enjoying them with fresh fruit when that comes in season. Be careful with how much sweet liquid you apply as they seem to soak it up rapidly.

I have also used them in a savory meal wrapping the pancake around a small grilled chicken sausage. I have also used them as a bread substitute for a egg salad andwich.

Whatever way you eat them, sweet or savory, they are quite tasty.

These pancakes are also dairy-free and I found them in the breakfast food freezer section at Trader Joe’s, 2.99 for 12 pancakes.

For taste, texture, adaptability I give these pancakes 5 (out of 5) gluten-free symbols.
Tinkyáda Pasta Joy Brown Rice Pasta

I have tried brown rice pasta in years past, so I was a bit hesitant to try it again.
But I have to say that I was very, very pleasantly surprised by the Tinkyáda Pasta Joy Brown Rice Pasta.
This pasta has a slightly extended cooking time than semolina wheat pasta, but if you follow the “Quick and energy saving directions” on the package, you will have a wonderfully al dente pasta that will hold up to any sauce that you can throw at it.

I particularly like the Fusilli shape for thick sauces. This shape has the brass-extruded ridges of expensive imported wheat pastas that hold on the thickest Bolognese, Puttanesca, Marinara or Alfredo, yet do just as well with a bit of garlicky olive oil.

The elbow shaped pasta helped me create a glorious gluten-free Mac ‘n cheese for comfort food perfection.

However, for soup I feed my inner child (and the little neighbor children) with the delightful Little Dreams (pictured above) that come in wonderfully fun assorted shapes from cuddly teddy bears, sparkly stars, ferocious dinosaurs and speeding trains, planes and automobiles.

There are many, many more shapes I hope to try, from shells to spaghetti, lasagna and spirals, fettuccini and penne. As soon as those beautiful juicy heirloom tomatoes come into season, I will be busy making sauces to try them all.
For the taste, the toothsomeness, mouth feel and adaptability, I also give this gluten-free pasta a five plus +…

I found this pasta in their colorful pastel bags and boxes at my local mega-mart and Whole Foods, but you can order on line here: Tinkyáda Pasta Joy .

Traders Joe’s Mini Chicken Tacos

I am always a bit skeptical about pre-prepared foods. But I found that these mini tacos were quite tasty. These cute mini tacos make a wonderful quick meal with a side salad and we also enjoyed them as fun finger food while watching a movie. They are filling and delicious. Just add your favorite sauces, cheeses, salsa or a squeeze of lime and you have a party.

I would like to try to make these tiny delights myself with other fillings, but as a fast food from my freezer, and a quick gluten-free treat, I give these a 4+.

Find these spicy little delights in the freezer case at Trader Joe’s for 2.99.
San-J Organic Tamari Wheat Free Soy

I love stir fried rice with fresh vegetables. It is my busy week-night meal that is light nutritious and a total no-brainer when I have had a rough day at work. The lovely repetitious movements of cutting the veggies has a calming effect and I can empty my mind of all the my troubles.

But in my stir fry, I just love the unctuous salty umami flavor of Soy Sauce. Yet now in my gluten free mind, I have come to know that most commercially produced Soy Sauces are prepared with wheat, making it off-limits to anyone that must eat gluten-free, unlessthey want problems.

A few weeks ago, I discovered the Panda Brand Low Sodium Gluten Free Soy Sauce that I was in small packets with my take-out from my local Chinese restaurant but I was unable to find it in a bottle my area. So for a few weeks I relied on the kindness the lovely proprietress at Jade Palace resto for my Soy Sauce fix.

I did however finally locate the San-J brand Organic Tamari Wheat Free Soy at my local Whole Foods. I was pleased l that I could continue to enjoy stir-fry-night without missing my favorite condiment that makes the meal for me.

This gluten free Soy gets a 5 from me.
General Mills Rice Chex

As the days get warmer and luscious berries come into season, I love to sit in the morning sun with a bowl of these berries atop a crunchy cereal kissed with creamery-fresh milk. This is a little bit of heaven to me on my lazy weekend mornings.

I was quite happy to see the big companies are paying attention to those of us that are wheat intolerant and assure us of a product that we can easily purchase in our neighborhoods. I bought my boxes of Rice Chex at a big-box discount stores (Aldi and Target) for less than 3.00 for 12.8 ozs. of crunch. With my gluten-free Soy Sauce, Spanish Marcona Almond, ground Grains of Paradise, rosemary and Rice Chex, I also made a pile of tasty Chex Mix for healthy snacks. (Recipe coming soon.)

I give this tasty mainstream cereal a 4 for availably and adaptability.
I hope that my product discoveries and reviews were somewhat helpful. As I stated, I am just at the first month of my search for gluten-free health and wanted to take you all on my journey.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday links: food for thought…thoughtful eating

You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.~ Julia Child

Because I am carefully looking at what is on my plate each day in order to eat gluten-free, I find myself also looking carefully looking at where my food on my plate comes from.
Examining what I put into my body, as gluten-free fuel has become a wonderful way for me to expand my personal food knowledge and culinary education as never before as I try to find my sweet spot to eat a healthy but still satisfying and delicious diet.

In my many “foodie” readings I came across this article that may give you all some food for thought as we come into that time of year when eating locally and supporting our local farmers will not only help our food budgets, but keep us healthier as well.

I am a fan of Michael Pollan’s food writing, but not all appreciate his views.
But you will have to admit, what he writes will educate and inform you and perhaps give you pause to take a look on what is on your own plate, where it comes from and how far it travels to your plate.

I would appreciate all your comments and feedback….

Friday, March 20, 2009

stalking spring…asparagus

Happy first day of Spring...!

So sorry I have not been posting here on my blog as much as usual.
Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans...
I hope that you will enjoy this first of many posts about what is delicious to eat from your local markets this Spring.

For me, the asparagus has always been a harbinger of spring. Seeing them poking their heads up in my garden is a subtle and tender sign that lets us know that our mother earth is back in the business of food production. And nothing tastes more like spring to me than freshly-picked asparagus before its sugary sweetness turn starchy on the tongue.

In 1908, Tokyo University chemist Kikunae Ikeda isolated a flavor that lay outside the four well-known tastes of salty, sweet, sour and bitter. He documented in his studies that asparagus had a distinctively different flavor coming from its glutamic acid and he named the fifth taste or umami.
Unfortunately, Dr. Ikeda also discovered the flavor enhancer MSG or Accent that was first commercially produced in the US since 1934.

Even with our harsh Midwestern winters, I recall that my mother always graced our Easter table with her homegrown tender green and white asparagus. Whenever I taste new spring asparagus, I am transported back around this family table and see the pride in my mom’s eyes. The memory of those tender and meltingly fresh stalks is what has made me a vegetable lover all my life.

Only now can I begin to understand why,when I was young, none of my friends liked asparagus. In fact they hated that veggie. I image that their only experience with the vegetable had been from a can or from the freezer. Most probably, it had also been cooked to a fibrous and pulpy consistency with the same khaki-green color as the 1970’s appliances. I am sorry for their misfortune. But I certainly can understand their veggie-hate…

As the days get longer and warmer and the pale gold winter grass gets greener with each sunny day, I look forward to those first sweet slender stems I glean from my garden and at the farmer’s markets and the myriad of dishes that I can create with them.

The stems and stalks of asparagus have the main function of conducting nutrients between the root and the leaves and providing support for the above ground organs. After a few weeks into the season as the sugar levels in the stalks decline, and I need to peel the woodier lignin stems before cooking. I still cherish asparagus season and will eat my fill.
The season is over too soon.

Now my mind wanders to the dishes I can cook:
the healthfully steamed asparagus with a touch of aged sweet balsamic vinegar,
creamy, rich asparagus soup,
crispy grilled asparagus,
ginger and garlic scented asparagus stir-fry,
lemon-pepper asparagus salad,
fresh raw asparagus tips perfectly dressed with olive oil,
fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper,
sautéed asparagus with aromatic olive oil,
lemon zest and fine leaves of grated Parmesano Reggiano or my favorite, because they are so rare,
the heavenly-pure white angelic asparagus richly dressed with lemony Hollandaise as they serve of the special menus or “spargel karten” in Germany…

I am out of breath, but not out of ideas.

According to my trusty Food Lover’s Companion, the asparagus stalk is a plant in the lily family. The earliest slender stalks are spring-green with purple-tinges tips. (But as my personal preference, I have to say as before, my favorite asparagus feast are the white varieties either the famous French asparagus of Argenteuil and those grown in Germany.)

Asparagus is low in calories, contains no fat or cholesterol, and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber and rutin. The amino acid, asparagine gets its name from asparagus, the asparagus plant being rich in this compound.

Fun Food Chronology of the Asparagus

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) has been cultivated for thousands of years. The Macedonians first domesticated it in about 200 B.C.

16 A.D.
Romans dote on asparagus. They considered a dinner incomplete unless it featured a dish with asparagus.

“Asperge Blanche” (white asparagus) begins to be widely cultivates in Argenteuil, France becomes very popular all over the country.

Asparagus became known in Britain as “sparrow grass”.

King Louis XIV of France sets aside 20-acres to create a vegetable garden, and a greenhouse so that his court would have fresh vegetables. The greenhouse staff was expected to provide the King with his favorite vegetable, asparagus beginning every March.

“Traité des aliments” (Treatise on Food) by Louis Lémery of France states that “asparagus is to be eaten to sharpen the humors and the heart, but causes a disagreeable smell in the urine.”
It is true that asparagus excretes methylmercaptan into the urine, but not everyone can detect the odor.

German asparagus growers in the region around Mannheim begin cultivating white asparagus or spargel.
The top grade was called scangenspargel and the second grade, spargelgemüse.

The new cookbook “Directions for Cooking” by U.S. author Eliza Leslie published in Philadelphia states that “Ham should be accompanied by asparagus…”. She gives twenty recipes for preparing this vegetable.

Joseph Campbell and tinsmith Abram Anderson collaborate to open the
Campbell Soup Company, a cannery in Camden, N.J. After soups, they pack baby peas and fancy asparagus.

Britain gets their first frozen foods as Wisbech Producers Canners Ltd. introduces asparagus in May under the name Bird’s Eyes Frozen Foods Ltd.

Grilled Asparagus

Ingredients List

1/2 lb Asparagus

Olive Oil

Organic Tamari Gluten free Soy Sauce (or regular soy sauce if you have no dietary restrictions.)

Kosher Salt and freshly ground Pepper to taste.

Narrow wooden skewers soaked in water for 30 minutes or more before use .

Gas or charcoal grill.


Wash and pat dry asparagus.

Cut tough bottom ends.

Mix olive oil and soy sauce.

Paint or rub sauce over asparagus spears.

Line up 4 to 6 spears of asparagus, pierce near base and top with sharp skewers.

Leave a little space between spears to aid cooking.

Grill speared asparagus over direct heat 3-4 minutes per side, or until spears are crunchy-tender.

Salt and pepper the asparagus to taste.Serve and enjoy the first taste of spring.

Sesame-Lime Chicken Breast and grilled Spring asparagus with Wasabi sauce.
My recipe...cooked, plated and styled by me at métrogirl photography studios...

P.S. One of my images from this post appeared on Serious Eats...
Check out Serious Eats...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Adventures with the tomato…Part V…roasted red tomatoes…

The natural world gives us so many things to play with that
are far too exceptional to be ignored.

Like so many of you, my loyal readers, I love tomatoes…

Those fresh, glistening, red ripe (or purple or green or yellow), juicy, heirloom or home-grown, meltingly delicious tomatoes.
The kind of tomato where you make a spectacle of yourself when you take that first succulent, amazing bite and the juice and seeds runs down your chin, your hands and arms.

But you don’t care what others think…
the taste transports you and you are in a tomato-induced Zen-like state.

Over the winter and even now into this transitional months between our frigid Midwest winters and the first tomato harvest, there are nobeautiful and luxurious tomatoes available anytime soon. The first of these perfect and delicious tomatoes don’t appear until here in our farmers markets until at least June.

What to do until then…?

I have eaten my way through the winter stash of my canned and frozen heirloom tomatoes, but my supply was now woefully down to two remaining jars. I feel like a junkie needing a fresh tomato fix...yikes…!

Then I came across this recipe from one of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa shows that I happened to catch on the Food Network. She slow roasted Italian Plum tomatoes. I never give these a first-look, as they are so pathetic and pale looking and grainy and flavorless to taste. The recipe states that this process of slow roasting concentrates the tomato flavor, which makes sense. I wish I had thought about this much sooner in the winter.

My local produce store has a special on locally grown hydroponic Italian plum tomatoes for fifty cents a pound. So it seemed a very good time to see if slow roasting would transform these pale pink orbs into the true tomato comfort that I was seeking.
For the small cash outlay of $2.00 plus a bit of olive oil, salt, sugar and pepper that I had already had on hand in my pantry, I was willing to give this tomato experiment a spin.

Roasted Plum Tomatoes
or how to have a summery tomato-taste while waiting for summer…
(adapted from a recipe from Ina Garten)


plum tomatoes (a dozen or more)

fruity first-pressed olive oil


Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

sprigs of fresh Rosemary (optional)


Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Half the plum tomatoes lengthwise, and remove the seeds and cores with a spoon.

Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer.

I placed several sprigs from my Rosemary plant in between the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. This lightly perfumes the tomatoes, but not with an overwhelming flavor.

Lightly drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes.

Sprinkle with sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Roast for 2 hours or until the tomatoes begin to very slightly caramelize.

Let the tomatoes to cool to room temperature.

The color of these pale tomatoes became rosy red and their flavor was concentrated and deliciously tomato-y and nearly like they were kissed with the summer sun.

Now you have some tasty tomatoes on hand for a wonderful caprese salad, to top any salad, pasta, pizza or just to add their tomato-y goodness to any dish of your choice.
I used mine in a guacamole, added to a tuna salad, for a tasty topping on buffalo mozzarella as an aperitif and tossed with brown rice gluten-free pasta and spicy chicken sausage with a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of grated Parmesano Reggiano...yum...

You imagination is your limit…and to be honest these are better than anything that you can purchase pre-made. For me, these tasty roasted Italian plum tomatoes certainly calmed my intense craving for those summer sun-ripened beauties.

Sure, they are not euphoria-producing as those first juicy, sun-warmed summer bites.
But I contend that they are a luscious substitute until then, and will feed the tomato-addict within.

I store my roasted plum tomatoes in an airtight container in the refrigerator. These keep well for up to 2 weeks, but mine never last quite that long…

Sunday, March 8, 2009

let food be thy medicine...

Let food be thy medicine,
and let thy medicine be food.
~ Hippocrates

Just a quick note to inform all of you, my loyal readers that the focus of this food-blog will shift ever so slightly. This blog will still contain my food images, recipes, travel, fashion, new trends in food, fun new kitchenware products and gadgets, great new food-related books and restaurant reviews.

This past week I was diagnosed with Celiac Sprue, which means that I will now be eating gluten-free. I am relieved to hear of this diagnosis and happier still that I will be using food to help heal me and make me whole.

I feel that this condition will lead me to wonderful new adventures in food which I am so anxious to share with all of you.

Join me if you will as I eat my way to good health at feasting on…gluten free pixels…

For more information on Celiac Disease and eating gluten-free, please go to

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

kitchen tip Tuesday…the Epicurean cutting board

”Good cooking is an art, as well as a form of intense pleasure…
A recipe is only a theme, which and intelligent cook can play each time with a variation.”
~ Madame Jehane Benoît, Chef (1904 –1987)

When I looked at the essential equipment that helps me create and cook, one of the hardest workers in my kitchen is my Epicurean cutting board. This particular cutting board is made of Richlite, an exceptionally durable wood-fiber composite that has been used in commercial kitchens for over 40 years. The two culinary schools where I take classes both use these boards in all their kitchens. (Please see the header of my blog above for a view on one of these kitchens.)

The Epicurean cutting board is a hygienic, nonporous surface that won’t dull your knives like plastic and other surfaces can do. It also does not harbor bacteria, or absorb unwanted flavors and odors. It is easily sanitized as the board is dishwasher safe. T he hole in the corner of the board provides a convenient hanging option for proper drying or storage.

I also find that this cutting board is so aesthetically pleasing that it can double as a presentation piece for breads, cheeses or sliced meats. So much so, I eventually acquired an additional board just for buffet presentation of cheeses and veggies at parties.

The surface that I use as the Epicurean cutting boards is so durable that it was originally used for skating surfaces in permanent skateboard parks and as the surface for skateboard events in the X-Games.

After I began culinary classes, I wanted to have one of these wonderful boards for my use in my own humble kitchen. I had seen this cutting board in many high-end kitchen equipment stores, and the price was a bit steep for my pocket. I shopped around the internet and found that the best price (and where I purchased mine a year or so ago) can be found here: epicurean cutting board.

Monday, March 2, 2009

peppery paradise…

Imagine that one little seed that tastes like a combination of a mild black pepper, ginger, cardamom and coriander. Then you have the warm, spicy, a tad bitter, Grains of Paradise with their full, delicious taste and a lovely, citrus aroma. I discovered grains of paradise two summers ago at a stall that was selling fresh and dried herbs and spices at Chicago Green Market in Lincoln Park. The very knowledgeable owners of the spice store relayed a few historical facts about grains of paradise. They are commonly used in the cooking styles of West Africa and North Africa, where they have been traditionally imported via caravan routes through the Sahara desert.

In Europe, it was often substituted for black pepper--until Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498 and replenished supplies of black pepper. The seeds were first named "Grains of Paradise" in the Middle Ages, when they were enjoyed as flavorings. They were often used throughout history to flavor alcohol. In fact, while England's Queen Elizabeth I used the grains for spicing wines and strengthening beer, King George III later declared the practice illegal and issued a heavy fine on any brewer who possessed the grains--as well as any druggist who sold it to a brewer.

In the Caribbean islands, natives use the seeds for medicine and in voodoo rites. West Africans use the spice as a flavoring, but they also chew the seeds for their warming and digestive properties.

In the early modern period, the craze for the spice waned and it became more common as a flavoring for sausages and beer. Today it is largely unknown outside of West and North Africa, except for its use as a flavoring in some beers ( including Samuel Adams Summer Ale), Vosges Haut-Chocolate's 'Field Songs' Truffle, gins and the Norwegian aquavit.

Grains of paradise or Aframomum Melegueta is commonly referred to as alligator pepper, Guinea pepper or Melegueta pepper. Wade into the swamps of the West African "pepper coast," and you'll find this herbaceous, leafy perennial. Its trumpet-shaped, purple flowers develop into 5 to 7 cm long pods containing numerous small, reddish-brown seeds. The Melegueta plant is not related to the pepper vine but is a member of the ginger family. The sphere-like seeds of Grains of Paradise look very much like cardamom seeds. (Cardamom is also a member of the ginger family.)

The seeds have a pungent, peppery taste due to aromatic and essential oils, which are the dominating flavor components. They provide a warm spicy bite with slightly bitter overtones. The flavors are reminiscent of cardamom and coriander.

A New York Times article written by Amanda Hesser has popularized grains of paradise. She wrote, "I put a few between my teeth and crunched. They cracked like coriander releasing a billowing aroma, and then a slowly intensifying heat, like pepper at the back of my mouth.
The taste changes in a second.
The heat lingered.
But the spice flavor was pleasantly tempered, ripe with flavors reminiscent of jasmine, hazelnut, butter and citrus, and with the kind of oiliness you get from nuts. They were entirely different from black peppercorns and in my mind, incomparably better.”

That summer, I took home my first jar of grains of paradise and have been exploring its uses ever since. I love to use grains of paradise in soups and salads, stews and pastas to give my usual fare a bit of different kick. So far my favorite way to use grains of paradise, where I find that their flavor really shines is as a finishing spice on fresh vegetables and pan seared cod fish or scallops. The pepper elevates and enhances the pure flavors of fresh clean food to an make it an extraordinary meal...if you will, this pepper will elevate it to paradise.

If you want to try Grains of Paradise, grains of paradise are available here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday links: beeting the system…

We all love fresh veggies and for myself, beets in season are among my favorite vegetables.
But I am not so sure about the sugar products that come from genetically modified American sugar beets.

I am posting this Sunday link so you all can be a more informed consumer on this subject if you will read The Politics of the Plate: Beeting the System.