Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cajun Please, Hold the Butter

A BIG EASY meal that takes it easy on the waistline? It’s not impossible my friends. I decided to make a meal from New Orleans to kick off the new season of True Blood (I know I themed again) without going too overboard with the calories. Hey, its bikini season people, shallow remarks on keeping fit are in plethora around these parts. So I started doing my research of Cajun fare online and weeding out all those gluten glutinous recipes. It reminded me of this year’s Super Bowl when I had fare from both teams stomping grounds. I will be honest, after the Super Bowl Cajun feast overload, I did not think I would crave Cajun for a while. We ate our way through cheesy shrimp and grits and olive tapenade drenched muffalettas until we were blue in the face. Or rather, purple.

I set the table with an eerie candlelit glow and deep red roses. I filled a large decanter full of cabernet sauvignon and accented with large wine goblets.Unfortunately, my play at eerie came out more romantic than intended but it made for a pleasant ambience nonetheless. Leave it to me to not be able to pull off romantic unless by accident.

Now for the New Orleans reVamped banquet. I ran across a garlic cheesy grits recipe on eatingwell.com that would ward off any vampire in this area. With a few tweaks of my own, I accomplished near perfection. I promise you, the butter was not missed. I made up my own spicy shrimp recipe, and let me tell you, this has some BITE! I tried to estimate about how much of each spice I scattered in, as I am a perpetual tosser and taster instead of a meticulous measure minder. True Blood Fans, this meal is for you.

Cajun Spicy Shrimp

•1 pinch kosher salt
•3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
•1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
•1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
•1/4 teaspoon white pepper
•1 teaspoon dried dillweed
•1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
•1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (add as much or as little for your own spice meter)
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•1 pound large shrimp - peeled and deveined

1.In one bowl, combine the seasonings. In another bowl, combine oil and shrimp; toss in the seasonings until well coated.
2.Sautee in a shallow pan for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Garlic Cheese Grits

•4 1/2 cups water
•1 cup grits, quick or old-fashioned (not instant)
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
•2 medium cloves garlic, minced
•1/2 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
•1/4 Pecorino Romano
•1/4 Parmesan
•1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (again, add at your own will)


1.Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray.
2.Bring water, grits and salt to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer until the grits are thick, about 20-30 minutes, depending on the type of grits.
3.Meanwhile, combine oil and garlic in a small skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
4.Stir the oil and garlic into the grits along with the cheeses and cayenne and transfer to the prepared pan.
5.Bake, uncovered, until bubbling and crusty on top, about 45 minutes.

**Make Ahead Tip: Prepare through Step 4, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Per serving: 168 calories; 6 g fat (3 g sat, 2 g mono); 16 mg cholesterol; 21 g carbohydrates; 7 g protein; 1 g fiber; 264 mg sodium; 35 mg potassium.
Nutrition Bonus: Calcium (15% daily value).
*derived from EatingWell.com

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cracking the Cracker Code

I have been buying many gluten free snacks over the past few months and while I have been pleasantly pleased, I take much more satisfaction when I am doing more with my hands besides dunking them into a box and raising them to my mouth. I have been a dedicated fan to Nut Thins, trying every flavor and combination (don’t judge my avid snacking)and found sea salt and barbecue to be my favorites. Although, I have never met a nut thin that I haven't liked. I have probably never consumed so many carbs in my life, but I think I have been justifying to myself that, “hey, I can eat that still!” I have reverted back to snacking on fruits and veggies since noticing my waist line expanding, and cut back on buying so many crackers. But sometimes, we just crave a good bit of salt or crunch in the afternoon to sate our taste buds until dinner time though right?
I was perusing different homemade snacks on other gluten free blogs, and came across a stunning almond flour recipe from elanaspantry. I have really enjoyed using almond flour for its texture, flavor and health benefits.Elana delved in a little more to its health benefits and I must say I am more intrigued than ever:

“Almond flour is highly nutritious, easy to use and readily available. For those of us watching our glycemic index, almond flour is high in protein, low in carbohydrates and low in sugars.
Unlike other alternatives to wheat flour, almond flour is moist and delicious. After having tested just about every gluten free flour out there, I can save you a lot of time and hassle when I say that almond flour is far superior to other flours in terms of taste, nutrition and ease-of-use.”

Health Benefits

1.Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, the same type of health-promoting fats as are found in olive oil, which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
2.Researchers who studied data from the Nurses Health Study estimated that substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrate in an average diet resulted in a 30% reduction in heart disease risk. Researchers calculated even more impressive risk reduction--45%--when fat from nuts was substituted for saturated fats (found primarily found in meat and dairy products).
3.In addition to their cholesterol-lowering effects, almonds' ability to reduce heart disease risk may also be partly due to the antioxidant action of the vitamin E found in the almonds, as well as to the LDL-lowering effect of almonds' monounsaturated fats. (LDL is the form of cholesterol that has been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease).
4.In addition to healthy fats and vitamin E, a quarter-cup of almonds contains almost 99 mg of magnesium (that's 24.7% of the daily value for this important mineral), plus 257 mg of potassium.
5.Almonds appear to not only decrease after-meal rises in blood sugar, but also provide antioxidants to mop up the smaller amounts of free radicals that still result.
*Taken from elanaspantry.com

Okay, enough of the health lesson and onto the real joys of cooking with almond flour, eating it! I decided to make my own crackers to test out my new knowledge. To make sure I knew what I was getting into, I started with one of Elana’s recipes and would then play with it once I knew that it would be successful.
There are two cooking staples I think everyone should grow in the garden, BASIL and ROSEMARY. Well, and mint, but it escaped my mind to plant it this year. I have been diving into my basil plants so I thought it was time to give my rosemary its 15 minutes of fame. I found a recipe on Elanaspantry that married my two current loves: ROSEMARY CRACKERS.

Rosemary Crackers

1 ¾ cups blanched almond flour
½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg

1.In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt and rosemary
2.In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil and egg
3.Stir wet ingredients into almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined
4.Roll the dough into a ball and press between 2 sheets of parchment paper to ⅛ inch thickness
5.Remove top piece of parchment paper
6.Transfer the bottom piece with rolled out dough onto baking sheet
7.Cut dough into 2-inch squares with a knife or pizza cutter
8.Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden
9.Let crackers cool on baking sheet for 30 minutes, then serve

Yield 24 crackers

I know I said 15 minutes of fame, but I let me rosemary crackers bake closer to 20 minutes to make sure they became cracker-esque. Hey, it’s a blog, I can make up my own adjectives to suit my cooking.
These crackers were absolutely delicious! I tried olive tapenade on top, cheeses, prosciutto, and also enjoyed them plain. I think it may be a while before I buy another box of crackers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Potato, PotAHto…let’s call the whole thing off.

For some reason Louis Armstrong’s lyrics swam around in my head all morning. I loved singing this song as a kid and it brings back so many memories. It’s amazing how songs can keep you reminiscing from one memory to another. As lyrics and tunes bring back the past occasions, the taste and smells of food throw me into momentary mirages. You know what I mean…that special bowl of chicken and rice your grandmother made when you were sick that cured all ails from the chicken pox to a runny nose or the smell of freshly baked bread wafting in the church hall carrying with it the day’s gossip. I can hear the bustle of the old Greek women, puttering around pointing fingers at the newbie bread braiders and guffawing over the latest piece of social speculation.

It decided to downpour this morning, creating a dark ambience down my halls and into the rooms of my home. Peaceful, yet in needing of some comfort, I decided that preparing a meal in my always happy kitchen would be just the ticket. I got out my notebook and like I always do for dinner, began brainstorming at what would fit the mood. Sunny days usually bring fresh guacamole recipes, tacos, and Caribbean, while rainy days pour comforting elements into my pen strokes. Today I thank Mr. Armstrong for my inspiration:

Potato (or PotAHto) & Leek Soup with Homemade Croutons and Turkey Bacon Bits

•3 leeks, sliced
•2 celery ribs, sliced
•2 shallots, minced
•1-2 cups carrot (I bought mine chopped)
•3-4 tbs dry thyme
•3-4 tbs dry dillweed
•Organic Free Range Chicken Broth
•10 baby butter potatoes (or potatoes of your choice), cubed
•Salt & Pepper to taste
•Dash of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
•Small block of gruyere cheese, cubed
•Block of sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
•1 ½ cups organic half and half
•6 strips Turkey Bacon
•4 slices gluten free bread of your choice

*I prepared my soup in the crock pot so I could smell the delicious meal all day.

Heat crock pot on high.

Drizzle olive oil in the crock pot and add your leeks, carrots, shallots, and celery. Add salt and pepper and mix so that all the vegetables are coated in the olive oil. Add your potatoes and spices and mix again. Fill the crock pot with your chicken broth until almost covering the potatoes. I use organic free range because it has the least amount of sodium and tastes the best.

Cook on High for 3 hours.

Add half and half. Let cook for another 30 minutes then add your cheese. You want to wait to add the cheese until the last 30 minutes so that you don’t cook off the flavors.

Place bacon on a nonstick baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes. Let cool, then slice into little bits for topping.

On the same pan, place your 4 slices of gluten free bread. Bake and turn until crispy. Take out of the oven and lightly smooth yogurt butter on tops. After they cool, tear into small pieces for your crouton topping. I made 4 slices because I knew I would inevitably be snacking on them every time I passed to check on the soup.

At four hours my potatoes were ready to be mashed. You want them nice and tender. Turn your crock pot to low, and with a hand mixer, smooth your soup to desired consistency. I did not want huge chunks of potato and it helped to thicken the soup with them smoothed into the liquid.

Serve Potato, PotAHto Leek soup with your bacon bits and homemade croutons. (And try not to argue over the correct pronunciation too much…)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Defeating Wheat When Going Out To Eat

Apparently people think that I am completely handicap when going out to restaurants. I get asked frequently if I am able to eat out at all, and what could I possibly order?! I have harped before about eating naturally gluten free and it is easy to do. Yes, even in restaurants. The biggest risk when dining out would be cross contamination, however to be honest I have not had this problem in the restaurants here in Tulsa. Hats off to you T-town chefs and staff!

That said, I wanted to share a few of my favorite places to eat here in Tulsa, and what I have enjoyed without ordering a side of anxiety too. To make this blog reasonable in length, I drew my favorite from each food fare category and only ones that I have recently visited since being diagnosed. Thai, Mexican, even Italian can be tackled in T-town. Just make sure you inform your waiter/waitress that you are gluten free and to make sure that nothing containing gluten comes near your plate. Sounds harsh, but I have yet to get an evil stare back from the other party.

Joe Momma’s Downtown Location – 10” gluten free pizza crust with your choice of any toppings or specialty pizzas

Piatto- Their Insalata della casa is absolutely amazing! Fresh Artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, and freshly pulled mozzarella marry a beautiful bed of romaine. For an entrée I have had the chicken rolletini, and chicken saltimbocca and melted into both with every bite. Steer clear of the antipasta section and head for the chicken and pork dishes.

Café Ole- their peppery salsa is the best in town, and their chips are all corn (I inquired about the exact ingredients). The best part about Mexican food is they use a lot of corn products so it makes for an easy g-free establishment. We split a chicken dish the other night, and substituted rice and beans but have enjoyed many delicious dishes here.

Thai Village- I have eaten all the Thai here in town but this one tops them all! We eat here at least once a week because I can order pretty much the majority of the menu. We always start out with their fresh rolls which are filled with delicious shrimp, lettuce, and sliced carrots and come with a peanut dipping sauce to die for. All entrees are served with white rice. My favorite is in the curry section, Pad Pak Curry. I order it with chicken but you have a few choices of protein naturally. Coconut milk, eggplant, mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots…Ah, you had me at coconut milk.

Pei Wei/ PF Changs- I am a local food junkie but for asian, this is the only spot I have tried. If you know of somewhere in town that you have tried, let me know! These two have a whole menu dedicated to gluten free gurus. You can never go wrong with a protein and rice. Pei Wei is a more limited menu, so I ordered the Pei Wei Spicy Shrimp.

Organic and Vegan
Café Samana- all organic, all fresh, all of the menu is absolutely amazing. Vegans and Vegetarians, this is your haven. I can order a sandwich for lunch now because Tracy has gluten free bread! Trust me, when you eat sandwiches for lunch 80% of your life, it was a blessing to have somewhere to return to the habit. My favorite is the roasted vegetable sandwich on gluten free bread, and I always try a cup of one of her daily soups which have never failed to wow me. The hummus of the day, hold the pita, is delicious and a filling meal in itself! This is a must try restaurant regardless of you dietary needs.

The Melting Pot- My boys took me here for mother's day and it was such a wonderful time. I remember the last time I visited the establishment I had dipped and dunked my way into a food coma. This time, was completely different. I told the server that we would be dining free and they did a wonderful job accomadating. We ordered the big night out, a three course fondue frenzy. For the first course we ordered the cheddar fondue which was made with a gluten free beer base, the second course was served with a Bourguignonne base – European style fondue in cholesterol free canola oil. The other lighter broth options had gluten ingredients. We finished off the meal with a yin yang of white and milk chocolate. All the dipping ingredients were gluten free for me, and my boys kept their bread separate. My six year old found the experience exciting, and my only reason to be terrified was that I would end up speared with his dipping fork by the end of the night. I left the restaurant delightfully full, and not wounded.

Other restaurants in the market that I have not tried but know they have specific gluten-free menus:

Carrabba's Italian
Kilkinny's Irish Pub
Michael Fusco's
BoneFish Grill
First Watch
Lone Star Steak House

Those are just a few of my faves but I wanted to get this out there so I can hear back from you dear readers. Where have you tried in Tulsa that has tickled your taste buds? Share in the comments box below.