This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Recipe Box: Flour-Free Cornbread

I grew up on Jiffy cornbread, which is really just corn-flavored bread.  When a lot of folks list cornbread recipes, they go for this classic flavor by adding a mix of gluten-free flours, gums, and sugar.  Turns out, you don't need any of that.  Classic southern cornbread is simple, slightly crumbly, and naturally gluten-free.

Ingredients:

2 Cups cornmeal*
2 Cups buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup fat: butter, bacon grease, or vegetable shortening


I use a 12" cast-iron skillet for this, but you can use a 9x11 baking dish instead if you don't have one. 

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees Farenheit

Melt the fat in the microwave, and grease the skillet or baking dish well

Combine all the ingredients and pour into the skillet or baking dish; let it rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as the oven takes to pre-heat (resting makes it fluff up and soaks the cornmeal)

Bake 15-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean, and the edges brown and pull away from the pan a bit

Let cool until it is warm to the touch before serving, with lots of butter and honey, or crumble and let it stale to make cornbread dressing.

If you are really acclimated to the sweet corn bread you get in restaurants, you can add 1/4 cup of honey to the mix with an extra tablespoon of corn meal to balance liquids and solids.  

*Corn products are often a cross-contamination risk for gluten because of how it is stored and processed.  Make sure you use a gluten-free labeled brand.  In the Southeast U.S., we use the Publix store brand yellow cornmeal without a problem. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Elimination Recipe Box: Creamy Mushroom Soup

The recipe is based on the food sensitivity elimination diet we are doing, and uses up the safe chicken base created from the Crock Pot Chicken recipe.  If you don't start with the chicken, it might be difficult to find an elimination-diet-friendly chicken broth or stock, so you may need to wait until you have finished the diet first.

Ingredients:

2 cups chicken broth (from crock pot chicken recipe)
4-6 cups fresh mushrooms, half chopped very fine, the other half sliced into bite-size pieces.
1/4  cup finely diced onions
1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk (use whole milk if dairy allowed)

In a medium pot, cook mushrooms in a tablespoon either of skimmed fat from the cooled chicken drippings or olive oil, until water is mostly evaporated
Add onions and cook until starting to brown
Add chicken broth and cook for 10 minutes
Remove from heat, let sit 5 minutes, then whisk in milk

If casein is allowed, top with a light shredding of Parmesan cheese.  

Elimination Recipe Box: Crock Pot Chicken

The recipe is based on the food sensitivity elimination diet we are doing, and has the bonus of producing a safe chicken stock for other recipes, such as soups and stews. 

4 chicken leg quarters
2 stalks celery
1 large carrot
1/4 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp dried rubbed sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil (use butter if you are not sensitive to dairy or casein)

Chop veggies into chunks  Place chicken meaty-side down in a crock pot and layer veggies, herbs, and oil or butter over the top.

Run the crockpot on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8, until chicken is fork-tender.  Add two hours if starting with frozen chicken.  Add a few tablespoons of water if needed to maintain moisture;you should have at least a cup of liquid in the bottom of the pot when you are finished.  

Remove chicken and veggies to serving bowl. 
Pour remaining liquid through a fine sieve into a storage container (jar, tupperware, etc.). 
Rinse the crock pot with about 1/2 cup of water and pour through sieve into same container. 
Store drippings in fridge for up to three days or in freezer for several months.  To add more liquid to container, first remove the layer of fat that forms at the top of the cooled drippings. 

The leftover meat is delicious served cold and shredded on a green salad the next day as a packed lunch. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Product Review: Udi Gluten-Free Granola Bars

Featured Product Reviews

I receive no compensation from the companies reviewed, nor do I have any relationship with them.  Gluten-free status is based on information as of the time of writing from the Cecelia's Marketplace shopping guide, parent company websites, and personal experience.  Please verify gluten status of products regularly, as formulations change (the information source is listed in the review when possible.)

 UDI's Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

I should have known, based on previous experience.  But the pretty image on the box and the lure of convenience food for school suckered me in. 

Udi's once again brings all the quality you'd expect from gluten-free offerings circa 1995.  The flavor and consistency of lightly toasted recycled paper pulp, with a hint of delicately sweetened, semi-hardened library paste.  Exactly five chocolate-colored wax bits were strategically placed on top.  Three whole almonds, which, I am happy to report, were not quite rancid.

I'm not sure how they are still getting away with charging so much for sub-par gluten-free specialty foods when every month a new company starts offering tasty new GF options.  Maybe they're not.  At any rate, do yourself a favor and buy Kind bars instead; they're comparably priced and much more delicious. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Elimination Recipe Box: Smooth Curried Vegetable Soup

This is an easy way to have a soup, sauce, etc. you can keep in the fridge for up to a week and re-heat to serve with almost anything.  The recipe is based on the food sensitivity elimination diet we are doing at the moment, which is why I started with online recipes for curried carrot soup, realized we can't use any commercial vegetable or chicken stock, and started winging it.  It's a great way to pick up some nutrients you might be missing. 

The "recipe" is not just basic; it's forgiving. Hate mushrooms?  Leave them out.  Love asparagus?  put it in.  The ingredients I used are not necessarily the ones you should use.

Throw in a can or two of full-fat coconut milk for a really diabolically tasty cream soup.

Ingredients:

3-4 large carrots, chopped into 1/2" pieces
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 bunch fresh spinach leaves, chopped, stems removed
6 oz fresh mushrooms, chopped
1/3 cup diced onion (or 1 large shallot)
3 minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried dill
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground cumin*
1/2 tsp ground coriander*
1/2 tsp turmeric*
1/2 tsp mustard seed*
1 tsp dried ginger (or 1 tablespoon minced fresh)*

(If you're not sensitive to or eliminating nightshade plants, you can substitute 1 tablespoon curry powder for these ingredients)

Recipe:
  • Heat large pot on medium-high heat
  • Add olive oil and wait until it moves like water
  • Add onion, garlic, and fresh ginger if using (don't add dried at this point)
  • Cook until onion is translucent and starting to brown
  • Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT THE BAY LEAVES and enough water to barely cover them.  
  • Bring to a simmer, then cook, covered for 15 minutes or until root vegetables can be pierced easily with a fork.
  • Set pot in sink of cold water to start cooling.  Add a few ice cubes to the soup to speed the process, and stir until cool enough to touch without scalding
  • In batches, process soup in blender until smooth
  • Return to stove top and add bay leaves.  Bring back to a simmer.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes.  
  • Serve warm or chilled, or use as a sauce on chicken or fish.  garnish with fresh parsley for a little crunch, or serve over shredded spaghetti squash. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Elimination Recipe Box: Sauteed Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is one of those weird, fun, tasty miracles of biology.  Does it taste like pasta?  Nope.  It tastes like buttery, delicious squash, but without the mushy squash texture.  So it does pair great with whatever you would pair pasta with, but if you don't expect it to BE pasta, you can appreciate the deliciousness that it is. 

Most recipes for cooking the squash call for cutting it in half first.  I can tell you that unless you have a handy-dandy kitchen reciprocating saw, that will be both enormously hard work and a little dangerous.  The good news is that it's entirely unnecessary. 

To cook the squash, simply jab it a dozen times all over with a sharp fork or paring knife to allow it to release steam.  Then place it on a plate or glass pie dish and stick the whole thing in the microwave for 7 minutes.  Use hotpads to roll it over onto the other side, and microwave for another 5 minutes.  If it is a small squash, shave a minute off each of those times.  Leave the door shut, and let it sit for another 10 minutes.

You can also roast it whole in the oven for an hour, if you are microwave-less.  It is done when a knife goes all the way to the center without much resistance.

Continue to use hotpads to handle it, but it should be fairly easy now to slice in half with a large knife.  Scoop the super-stringy, darker threads and seeds from the middle, then use a fork to shred the squash flesh into spaghetti-like strands.  Try a large spoon to scrape the last bits out if they adhere to the rind.

This basic pile of squash shreds will keep in the fridge for 5 days, and re-heats beautifully in the microwave or stovetop.  It's another good option to make on a Sunday and throw together into a quick side dish or packed lunch all week. 

Now for the sauteed squash:

Ingredients (2 large side servings):

Shreds from 1/2 cooked spaghetti squash (about 2-3 cups, loose)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons minced onion
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley*

*Also try fresh basil and oregano, or add fresh sage while the garlic is cooking, or use a curry spice mix.  

Recipe:

Heat olive oil in a large pan on medium-high heat
add garlic and onion, and fry until fragrant (30 seconds)
add spaghetti squash
Cook and stir for 2-3 minutes until squash is tender (add additional oil if sticking)
Add fresh parsley and cook an additional minute
serve warm


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Elimination Recipe Box: Roasted Beets

This recipe is Elimination-Diet friendly.  The downside of beets is that they take a long time to cook.  The upside of beets is that they're delicious either hot or cold, so they're great in a packed lunch, and throw needed vitamin C and fiber into your diet.  Roasted beets are worth it, since they're much more flavorful and toothsome than canned varieties, and less expensive.

If the beets come with greens, you can cook them up like swiss chard.  I would make the greens the first night, roast the beets during dinner, and eat the beets the next day.  


Ingredients:

4-6 beets
1/4 cup olive oil
14 cup balsamic vinegar (optional)

Recipe:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Peeling beets is just like peeling potatoes, but messier.  Beet juice will stain a lot of surfaces, including countertops, hands, and fabrics.  It's easiest to just station yourself at the sink with a little water running (or a bowl of water if you're in a drought state), 4-6 washed beets, and a vegetable peeler or paring knife. put a plastic cutting board at the bottom of the sink.  Peel and chop the beets into 1/2" by 1" pieces, and rinse as needed. 

Place the beet pieces in a baking dish lined with aluminum foil, or an oven-safe pot with a tight lid (e.g. dutch oven). 

drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and either wrap up tightly in the foil or place the lid.

Bake at 400 F for at least 40 minutes, up to 1.5 hours.  After the first 40 minutes, test for doneness, stir the beets, and add 1/3 cup water if they're looking at all dry on top.  Repeat every 20 minutes. 

The beets are done when they are about the consistency of a canned pear; firm to the tooth but not crunchy.  The easiest way to check is to run a piece under cold water for a moment, then take a bite. 

You can serve the beets warm, or refrigerate them and eat them cold.  I prefer cold, my partner warm.  They stand up to multiple re-heats in the microwave, so make enough to last the week.

Note 1:  I have not personally tried it, but there are a lot of recipes for cooking beets whole in a slow-cooker/crockpot.  Here's one example from Southern Food. 

Note 2: You can also roast the beets whole and unpeeled, wrapped in foil, and the skins should slide off when they're done. It takes longer, and I don't like handling the hot beets, so I peel first.  There's very little difference in the resulting flavor and texture, so see which way you like it!

Note 3:  Beets will add a pink tint to your urine; do not panic and think you are bleeding internally :-)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Elimination Recipe Box: Pan-Roasted Cauliflower

While this recipe is specifically designed to fit a food sensitivity elimination diet, it is tasty enough for anyone, and quick enough for a weeknight side dish. 

I like to use a cast-iron pan for stove-top cooking, as it gives me the nice crunchy savory brown bits that a teflon pan doesn't develop.  I have made this successfully in a steel pan as well. 

Ingredients:

1-2 heads of fresh cauliflower
olive oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic

Recipe:

Wash cauliflower and break off florets at the stem.  Slice larger florets so that everything is about 1/4" thick, but leave the small ones whole.  Discard the main stem and leaves, unless you are motivated to someday make vegetable stock from scratch, in which case add it to the veggie scrap bag in the freezer. 

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan on medium-high heat until the oil flows like water

Add cauliflower and garlic, and stir to coat.  Add more olive oil as needed to get everything a little oily.

Stir every two minutes or so, or as needed to prevent burning (but let it get a little brown between stirrings).  Total cooking time should be about 10 minutes, with the cauliflower still a little crisp.  Run a piece under cold water and taste it to see if it's to your liking.

Serve warm, but leftovers can be tossed with cooked quinoa for the next day's lunch.  

Elimination Recipe Box: Blackened Chicken Tenderloins

We are about halfway through a three-week food sensitivity elimination diet, and I can say that it DOES get easier once you have your routine down.

Since we are avoiding nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant), it also eliminates most seasoning mixes.  Paprika and chili pepper are almost ubiquitous in pre-mixed spices.

But blackening seasoning and pan-fried protein plays an important role in this high-veggie diet of satisfying the need for flavor, sodium, fat, and calories.  This isn't a weight-loss diet, and depriving your body of nutrients while it is recovering from inflammation is a bad idea.

A couple of blackened tenderloins for breakfast with sliced fresh fruit, dates, and a cup of light coconut milk will keep you going for the whole morning. 

Ingredients:
2 chicken tenderloins per person, defrosted and dried with paper towel
olive oil
blackened seasoning: one part each of fresh ground sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, garlic powder, to two parts each dried oregano and dried basil. (example: 1/4 tsp salt, pepper, garlic powder, 1/2 tsp oregano, basil)

Recipe:

Pre-heat frying pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat.  Cast-iron or steel are best, as a non-stick pan won't give you the "char" you're looking for.

coat both sides of chicken and rub the spice mix into the meat so that it sticks well

When oil flows easily, place tenderloins and let cook undisturbed for 3 minutes.

Blackened doesn't mean burned!  The cooking side should get a little crispy and brown, and the spices should be dark-brown to black.  If you think it's scorching, turn the heat down.

Flip and cook undisturbed for an additional 3 minutes.

Serve warm. These also work very well cold on a salad or quinoa for lunch. 

The first time you make these, test the tenderloins for doneness (no pink in the center) as your pan, stove, and choice of tenderloins will make a difference.  If they're not quite done, flip and cook an additional minute covered with aluminum foil or a pan lid.  Adjust cooking time and temperature next time to add time to each side as needed. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Elimination Recipe Box: Creamy Fish and Asparagus Stew

This is a great recipe for day one of the food sensitivity elimination diet.  It is hearty and flavorful so that you don't feel deprived.  It's also a great opportunity to create lots of leftover soup and quinoa to eat throughout the week. 

This is a pretty versatile recipe in that you can substitute many different vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke hearts) for the soup, and any mildly flavored protein.  By changing the protein, this recipe becomes vegan. 

If you haven't worked with quinoa before, you really should try it.  It is a delicious and versatile little grain that's packed with fiber and other nutritional goodies. The flavor is approximately that of brown rice, and it cooks up similarly.  The texture is similar to couscous.   It keeps well in the fridge for several days, and can be re-heated for sweet or savory meals. 

 This may look complicated, but once you have made it, it is easy to re-heat some soup and quinoa for a snack or light lunch, or cook up a simple protein like a chicken tenderloin and combine it for a quick dinner. 

Ingredients
(makes 2 servings, with lots of soup and quinoa left over for later meals)

  • 2 cups uncooked quinoa (any color, but the white is usually least expensive and easiest to find)
  • 2 tilapia fillets (or other mild white fish)
  • 1 bunch (approx 1 pound) asparagus
  • 1 medium size yellow onion or 2-3 large shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can full fat coconut milk (not cream of coconut, and not the light kind)
  • 1 teaspoon dried ginger, or 1 tablespoon minced fresh
  • Sea salt, pepper, olive oil
  • grated nutmeg (optional)
 STEPS

If the tilapia fillets are frozen, thaw them by placing them in ziplock bags under cool running water while you prepare the soup.
Quinoa: 
Prepare the quinoa per package directions.  It will stay hot with the lid on if it finishes before the rest.


Soup:
  1. Cut the tips from the asparagus, chop into chunks, and set aside
  2. Chop the rest of the asparagus stalk into 1/2" pieces
  3. Heat olive oil in soup pot over medium-high heat
  4. Stir fry the pieces of asparagus stalks with onion, garlic, and fresh ginger (if using) until onion is translucent (3 minutes)
  5. Add 4 cups of water to pot, and bring to a boil
  6. Boil until asparagus is tender (10-12 minutes)
  7. Add 3-4 ice cubes to pot, or set pot in cold water and stir until it can be touched without pain
  8. Puree in blender or food processor until smooth (return some of the liquid to the pot if it won't fit in blender)
  9. Add coconut milk, chopped asparagus tips, dried ginger (if using), salt, and pepper
  10. Set over medium-low heat to gently warm (10-15 minutes). Stir occasionally

Tilapia:
  1. About 6 minutes before soup and quinoa are done, rinse tilapia fillets and pat them dry with paper towels.
  2. rub one side of the fillet with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in pan over medium-high heat
  4. Place fillets seasoning side-down and let cook undisturbed for 3 minutes.
  5. While it is cooking, sprinkle the other side of the fillet with salt and pepper
  6. Carefully flip with sharp metal spatula and cook an additional 3-4 minutes
  7. If the fillets aren't white all the way through and flake easily, cook an additional minute or two with aluminum foil over the top to trap heat.  They are done when there is no more pink and the flesh flakes apart with a fork.
Finish

Place 1/2 cup cooked quinoa in a soup bowl, top with a tilapia fillet, and follow with 1 cup of soup.  Garnish with a sprinkle of grated nutmeg, if desired. 


Food Sensitivity Elimination Diet

During our four months in Norway, our diet changed pretty drastically.  The benefit of a long change in diet is that when you go back to eating your regular foods, you discover hidden food sensitivities you hadn't realized were a problem before.  The drawback is that you discover hidden food sensitivities you hadn't realized were a problem before.

How, you might ask, do you not realize you're sensitive to a food?  In my partner's case, he spent his entire teen and adult life with gradually worsening, undiagnosed Celiac disease.  He has not been entirely "well" at any point in his memory, so his baseline state of physical experience is illness.  That's something difficult to grasp for people who don't have food sensitivities or chronic illnesses.  So if some food is making him slightly sicker, it becomes part of the everyday experience. Asking if a food makes him feel sick is like asking a fish how the water feels today.

The only real way to tell if you have a food sensitivity is to stop eating a lot of foods for a few weeks, let your system heal from the chronic inflammation, and then re-introduce the foods one at a time.  If there is a sensitivity to that food, the reaction should be swift and unmistakable. No reaction = no sensitivity.  This is known as an elimination diet.  Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to find info on elimination diets, because everyone has a different idea of what you should eliminate.  There is also a gap between elimination diets to test for food sensitivities, and ones designed to eliminate so-called "toxins" or whatever the author has decided is morally "bad" food (often on very shaky evidence).

We already know that gluten grains are a problem for him. He suspects, based on noticeable physical reactions that need further testing, that bananas, cucumbers, avocado, and the nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers) are also a problem.  Beyond that, we are cutting the "usual suspects" for food intolerances; eggs, dairy, soy, corn, rice, chocolate, refined sugar, citrus fruit, nuts, alcohol, and caffeine.  After 21 days, we'll gradually re-introduce one type at a time, waiting 3 days for a reaction before introducing the next food.

The Diet

 We used this elimination diet handout as a starting point in designing our own.  You will probably never find an elimination diet that is "perfect" for you, because every body is different.  The changes we made to the diet on the handout included eliminating beans, nightshades, rice, bananas, cucumbers, avocado, and pine nuts, because my partner intuitively knows they don't "sit well" with him.  We are keeping beef, because he doesn't absorb plant-based iron easily and needs a source of iron.  You must listen to your own body when it comes to making your plan. 

This means that we are eliminating:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy (including cheese, milk, yogurt, casein containing products, and butter)
  • Grains (all but quinoa; wheat, rye, barley, rice, oats, etc.)
  • Corn (including syrup and starch)
  • Beans (including soy, peas, other legumes)
  • Specific fruit (bananas, avocado, citrus fruit)
  • Nuts and seeds (all except coconut)
  • Nightshade vegetables (including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika)
  • All oils except olive
  • Shellfish
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine (including decaffeinated coffee and tea; they still have traces)
  • Refined white sugar (we'll re-introduce beet and cane sugar separately)
  • Honey
This leaves us all non-nightshade vegetables, meats, fish, most herbs and seasonings, most fruit, coconut milk, quinoa, and olive oil.  That is somewhat restrictive, but it is absolutely possible to create a varied and tasty diet from that list. 

Some ideas for substitutions:

Coconut milk will pretty much replace all dairy.  We have an ice cream freezer and it makes passable ice cream if I can decide how to sweeten it.

The loss of sugar is a big one.  I have a jug of blackstrap molasses if a recipe can take the burnt-sugar flavor of it.  I can use fruit to sweeten.  I may also invest in some coconut sugar, if necessary.

Gelatin can be used instead of eggs as a thickener for ice cream, even if it doesn't behave like eggs in baked goods.  I suspect it could stabilize coconut cream into whipped cream to serve on some baked apples or fresh berries.

Quinoa every day fills the need for starch and makes a good side dish/filler for many meals.  It will be the go-to for hot breakfast, with some coconut milk and fruit.   

I will blog the successful (i.e. tasty and satisfying) recipes as we go, and at the end of the 21 days, I should be able to post a sample menu to help you if you are going through the same process.