Monthly Archives: June 2008

Non-traditional Pesto

I love the way basil grows, it looks so beautiful and bushy and smells wonderful. Every year, I plant a new one and watch it grow. My daughter uses it for her food, I use it as much as possible, but I hate to pick at it it since it’s so pretty. Well, right now it’s large and overgrown in the back yard. Today it was about 113 degrees out here in the desert, and this plant won’t last much longer, even in the shade of the orange tree where it sits.

So if you have all that basil…we all know what that means… pesto! I grabbed a huge handful of leaves from the plant this afternoon and headed into the kitchen. Just the aroma of the leaves is intoxicating and I’ve said more than once that I would love a perfume with basil in it. It smells so sweet and earthy.

But, I digress. I gathered all my ingredients, most of which are always in the house such as garlic, olive oil, Romano cheese, salt, etc. But I was missing one of the key ingredients–pine nuts. I’ve read that some people make their pesto with walnuts, so I figured I’d use something else also.

All I could find was a bag of candied pecans from Trader Joe’s. I know it sounds crazy, but I used them and it was so amazingly tasty. I’m going to use them from now one, that’s how good it was. It gave the pesto a wonderful, sweet but tangy flavor. If you don’t happen to have any candied pecans in the house, go ahead and try any kind of nut in the house.

Pesto has that wonderful versatility and can be used in so many ways. Over grilled veggies, over pasta (of course), on pizza, on toast (gf of course) and more. Go ahead and give this a try. And if you try anything different, let me know. I’m always looking to try something new.

This is the pesto on it’s own. I just love the vibrant green color and the aroma is fantastic. I could just eat it with a spoon (and I do).

This is my pasta with the pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. Too yummy for words.

The only way to find out if something works is to give it a try. I’ve made a few mistakes, but I’ve also discovered some pretty great dishes too. I’ve put the recipe I used below, but go ahead and use more of less of anything to suit your taste. The recipe calls for one large clove of garlic, but if you like more, go for it. If you like less, I’d say just use one small, or just 1/2 of one. I like a lot of garlic and not so much cheese.

1 large cloves of garlic
2 TBS candied pecans (or pine nuts, walnuts, etc.)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 TBS shredded romano cheese
1 large handful of basil, (about 2 cups)
2-3 TBS olive oil

1. Put garlic, nuts and salt in food processor and blend.

2. Add basil and cheese, then blend a few pulses to get all the basil blended.

3. Add olive oil slowly to get the consistency you like. You may not need to use all the oil, or you may need more. I like mine pretty thick.

4. Done! It’s that simple.

To serve with pasta, just add pesto to cooked pasta and stir. I added a few sun-dried tomatoes in the pasta water for the last 2 minutes to soften them up, then mixed them all together with the pesto. Yum. You can add a little more shredded cheese if you like.


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Filed under gluten free, herbs, pasta, vegetarian

Friends and the Sticky Issue of Food

Unless you’re a hermit, you’ve probably been invited to a friend’s house for dinner, lunch, party, snacks, etc. For many people, an invitation is welcomed and accepted immediately. For those of us with food restrictions, this makes things a little more sticky.

I’ve been in many situations over the years regarding friends and food. I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’d like to share them with you. If you’ve already come to these conclusions, then you’ll understand. If you haven’t gotten this far, then take it from me and learn from your experiences.

1. Never accept an invitation without asking about food accommodations. Well, I guess I should say never accept unless you intend not to eat. Then make sure you eat before you go, and make sure that by not eating, you are not insulting the host/hostess. If you accept without asking, you will have to make another inquiry later to make sure you can eat what’s being served.

2. There are tactful ways of asking about what is being served. I always apologize for any inconvenience, and make sure to offer to bring my own food. If the hostess insists on preparing something for you but doesn’t know what that is yet, remember to give any restrictions up front. Mention cross contamination, seasonings, soups, etc. I am a vegetarian and make sure that’s mentioned also.

3. Bring your own food. Even if you have to insist, tell your host that you don’t mind. And at this point, I really don’t mind. I’m going to a friend’s house for the company, not necessarily the food. And there will probably be something there you can eat, even salad or fruit. If you can, find out what the hostess is making and try to make a GF version of it for yourself. I’ve made some great GF eggplant parmesan, spaghetti, etc. There are even some great buns out there, so if you’re heading to a barbecue, just marinate a portabello mushroom in some olive oil, salt and pepper. Then have the host grill it for you. Use the tomatoes, lettuce, etc. available and you’ve got a great sandwich. If you want, bring some balsamic dressing for the sandwich, but either way, you won’t stick out as much and your host will probably be relieved since he didn’t have to find something for you.

I recently asked about potatoes that were made at a gathering recently, making sure to mention the “no-gluten” requirement. The person who made the potatoes even assured me that there was no gluten and she understood since her son has Celiac. Imagine my surprise to find out that she had used a can of cream of chicken soup in the dish. Not only did it have wheat gluten in it, but also chicken.

That leads to the most important point of all:

4. Unless you know someone very well, or know that they are taking precautions, don’t trust anyone. I have had “just salad” so many times I can’t even count it anymore. But it’s so much better than hearing later about something missed by the cook. And unfortunately, gluten is just not that understood by so many people. And since it hasn’t been publicized as much, and doesn’t cause a severe allergic reaction such as peanuts will do, then people just don’t take it as seriously. They don’t understand the gastric distress it can cause that night and for days later, depending on the contamination.

But once again, it all falls on your lap. If you are not sure, don’t eat it. I have been tempted so many times to say, “What the heck” and just eat something. But I know I will pay for it later. And so far nothing has been tempting enough to put me over the edge. I know something will, some day, but for now, it’s just not worth it.

Happy Eating


Filed under dinner parties, gluten free, vegetarian

In the Mood for Something Spicy

Tonight I decided to use up my veggies, but I didn’t feel like pasta again. I used my mushrooms last night and made a great mushroom wine sauce for my GF Trader Joe’s pasta. (I tried to take a photo, but it just looked like red spaghetti.) Tonight, I thought I’d take it up a little and make something really spicy and fun. I love Indian food, and I’ve tried making some of it. Some good, some not so good. But I never give up. I have a few staples I make all the time, like curried potatoes and onions, lentils and rice, etc. But I wanted to use up my veggies so this is what I came up with.

So wonderful with spicy seasonings, crisp, fresh veggies and sweet jasmine rice. I made enough for lunch tomorrow. (Always make enough for a second time. The seasonings sit overnight and really blend and marry well.) I’m not sure if there really is a name for this, it’s just something I like to put together with whatever I’ve got. You must have onions and garlic, but if I had potatoes I would have put them in, as well as carrots and perhaps some fresh spinach. But I just used what I had and it was fabulous.

I also like to use Trader Joe’s jasmine rice in the freezer section. It’s separated into three easy-to-prepare packages, and the rice is already cooked. If I have time, I’ll make rice and save it, but this rice makes it so easy to prepare rice dishes quickly. They also have a great brown rice that is flash frozen also.

Veggies and rice in a curry wine sauce

1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 sweet onion
1 clove garlic
1 zucchini
1/2 yellow squash
1/2 red pepper
3/4 cup chopped mushrooms
2 cups cooked jasmine rice
or 1 bag Trader Joe’s frozen jasmine rice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1/3 cup vegetable broth
1/3 cup white wine

Chop onion, garlic, zucchini, squash and red pepper into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil in a saute pan and add vegetables. Cook over medium heat until onion and peppers start to soften, about 5-7 minutes.

Add mushrooms and cook another 3-5 minutes over medium heat.

Add cumin, curry, turmeric, and cayenne, cook for a moment, then add broth and wine. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring to deglaze the pan.

Add rice (if you’re using the TJ rice, just add the frozen rice, no need to cook it.) Mix all together, lower heat and simmer. If using cooked rice at room temperature, you’ll just need to warm rice. If you’re using the frozen rice, you’ll need about 8-10 minutes to warm everything up.

Add salt and pepper at the end to taste and serve.


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Eating Out-Precautions

Being gluten free means being extra careful when it comes to eating out. Since I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, I’m quite used to asking about broths used, meat products, etc. even if they are not listed on the menu. Even vegetable soups can have chicken or beef broth in them, since the chef is just thinking of flavor, not us vegetarians. So, when it came time to add gluten into the questions at restaurants, two things happened. One, I was much more adamant about getting it right. Now, if there happens to be chicken stock in something and I find out later, I may be very upset, but I won’t be sick for days. If there happens to be flour in that soup, I will be more than just upset.

The second thing about eating out gluten free is that I am much more picky about where I eat out. Yes, I know I can have a salad anywhere, but that gets old really fast. I have even resorted to bringing my own food to a restaurant. I found a great local Ethiopian restaurant, and Indian restaurants, with excellent food, but no bread without wheat to scoop it up with. One serves injera, which is a great bread made with teff, but they also add wheat flour. The other serves Naan, which is a wheat flat bread. I just stop by a local Mexican market and buy fresh corn tortillas to scoop up my veggies. I’ve found that most restaurants are OK with it.

And even though I take precautions, it’s not a guarantee that I won’t get glutened. It’s happened before and it will happen again. There is no way to prevent it, except to eat at home or bring my own food at all times. I just can’t live like that. So I take my chances. And I also eat at home a lot more than I used to. Eating out is a treat for me now, even more than it used to be. And it’s a treat for my kids since they don’t get to go as often either.

A few things I’ve learned:

1. If the waiter does not know what gluten is, walk away. It’s way too easy for them to contaminate something and not even know. I recently went to a restaurant that served gluten-free pasta. When the waitress told me they were out of the pasta, she suggested eggplant parmesan, it didn’t have any gluten. What? I asked her if she knew what gluten was, she said, “Of course…it’s some kind of sauce.” Goodbye!

2. Always ask about the fries. Most fries are cooked in the same oil as onion rings, chicken fingers, etc. This not only leaves gluten in the grease, but meat also. If you’re not into either, don’t eat them. And never assume that fries are not coated with something. A lot of fries that are bought frozen have a coating on them to make them crispy, which can contain gluten. Ask the wait staff to check the bag/box they are in if they are not 100% sure.

3. Even when ordering a salad, which seems to be the safest of all–beware. Salad dressing can contain gluten, including soy sauce. If they make the dressing there, that’s your best bet. Also, order without croutons and if your salad comes with them anyway, make sure you get a new salad, not just the same one with the croutons picked off. Explain that it’s like a peanut allergy, which people seem to understand a bit more.

4. Even well-meaning friends can be dangerous. Unless you know for sure that your friend is aware and totally understands your needs, you may want to be cautious. Why is it that so many people think that “just a little” won’t hurt? Even when I was just vegetarian, and had emphasized a no-fish policy, I had a friend use fish sauce in the dinner she prepared and then declare, “I didn’t think a little bit would matter.”

I recently told someone I needed a vegetarian and gluten-free dinner, so she made spaghetti…Hmmm. I have also had things offered with soy sauce, crust, etc. Now, not everyone is doing it on purpose. Some people are just not aware of all the hidden sources of gluten. When visiting friends, always emphasize what you need, and always offer to bring your own to share with others. It saves the embarrassment of having to turn down your hostess’s food. Bring a roasted-vegetable tart, flourless chocolate cake, brown-rice pasta salad, etc. I even have friends request the tart and chocolate cake when I’m invited now.

5. Finally, don’t let this keep you inside and afraid. When I first began this way of life, I was so afraid to eat out, I practically became a hermit. I learned to cook things I needed, but I didn’t even want to experiment. Once I got over feeling sorry for myself, I realized that I could experiment all I wanted. And eat out…I just have to be more careful. More and more restaurants are recognizing gluten-free needs and it’s getting easier to buy things in grocery stores, Trader Joe’s, etc. And yes, if you eat out there is a chance you’ll get glutened. But it’s a chance I’m willing to take rather than close myself up in the house. Even those with severe peanut allergies eat out, they just prepare themselves in case they are exposed.

I have found a few restaurants where I feel comfortable eating. It feels great to know that I can rely on these places, but even then I have to be aware. I have learned to make great food for myself and my kids. And even though neither one of my kids is GF, they are very happy to eat everything I’ve made that is GF. They love to experiment with new foods, and understand my needs. It’s important to make sure that your friends and family are on your side, it’s a long journey. But it can be an easier one if you take care.

Good luck.

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Filed under gluten free, restaurants, vegetarian

A Lazy Day and Lettuce Wraps, a Perfect Combination

Sunday. Isn’t it just a day for lounging? Remember Sundays when you were a kid? For me, it meant no school, hanging out with friends and possibly visiting family. Nothing too strenuous on a Sunday. And take it easy since tomorrow’s a big day. Monday always seems to be looming over Sunday.

Although I know I could be cleaning, or something, today I would much rather watch a sappy Lifetime movie about a woman whose child was switched at birth. My daughter found a good book and has been in her bed, curled under a blanket, reading all day. We’re both still in our pajamas…what the heck. I made her come out and eat, then back to bed she went. Call me lazy, but I just want to veg out today.

And speaking of vegging out, Sundays just seem to be a day of snacking and eating whatever you feel like. It used to be grilled cheese sandwiches, soup, chili perhaps. Whatever sounded easy to make, or leftovers, which is even better since it usually only requires a microwave.

Today, during a commercial, I decided to whip up some veggie lettuce wraps. It took longer than the commercial, but not more than two. I certainly got to see if Lisa Hartman Black was able to get her baby back…But enough about the movie, the lettuce wraps were the best part of the afternoon.

The recipe below was just a small lunch, but you can double it for a dinner or more than two people for a snack/lunch. This way it leaves room for dinner. And use any veggies you have in the fridge. I was hoping I had a zucchini or yellow squash, but not this time. This dish is usually a great way to use up odds and ends of veggies, just stir fry and serve up in a lettuce wrap. I love the crunch of the lettuce as you bite into it, it’s like eating a taco, only better…

Veggie Lettuce Wraps

4-5 lettuce leaves, torn off gently
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup cabbage, chopped
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
olive oil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 TBS wheat-free tamari

Heat olive oil in pan for a moment, then add peppers, cabbage, garlic and onions. Sautee for about 5 minutes, until veggies are softened and onion is translucent.

Add mushrooms, cayenne pepper, tamari, salt and pepper to taste.

Sautee another 5-7 minutes, stirring infrequently to allow mushrooms and veggies to brown from the tamari.

Serve in lettuce boats.


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Filed under Asian, gluten free, vegetarian

Pasta – Comfort Food Finally

Growing up in New Jersey, Christmas Eve was never complete without Mom’s pasta/seafood dinner. My favorite was the calamari pasta. I loved the chewiness of the calamari with the al-dente texture of the pasta. The tomato sauce was slightly spicy and always perfect. For the rest of the dinner, I preferred not to eat the eel, although it wasn’t too bad, and never ate the plate of little fish staring at me. (Mom, what were they called again?)

Alas, that was many years ago and many miles ago. I’m living in the Valley of the Sun now, I’ve been a vegetarian for 22 years and gluten free for the past three years. That pretty much leaves out any more pasta/seafood Christmas Eve dinners. But Mom lives in the Valley now also, and is living GF too. Although I’ll never have calamari pasta again, the search for a good GF pasta is finally over.

I’ve finally decided on a brand that actually tastes like the pasta I remember. Of course, nothing will ever compare exactly to a good, semolina pasta. As I’ve said before, I refuse to eat something that doesn’t wow me, and in my quest for pasta, I wasn’t wowed for a long time. I tried Tinkyada’s brown-rice pasta and it was pretty good, it just had a tendency to get mushy very fast and it doesn’t have much flavor. I tried corn pasta that I found at Safeway one day (I don’t even remember the brand) and it was totally inedible. I think I could do some yard repair with that stuff.

Finally, someone mentioned Trader Joe’s brown-rice pasta. It’s much less expensive than the other brands, and believe it or not, it’s great!… The pasta cooks up nicely and has a wonderful al-dente texture, just like whole-wheat pasta. It actually has a great taste that adds to the flavor of any dish. I prefer to use the spaghetti-style pasta, but they do have smaller noodles also.

Tonight, my daughter requested one of her favorites for dinner–broccoli and garlic noodles. Before GF, we ate them often. After, I would just make them for her and watch her eat them. Now that I’ve finally found a pasta with great flavor and texture, it’s time to head back. Since she’s not a big fan of sun-dried tomatoes, I just take her serving out of the pan before adding the tomatoes. But if you’re good with everything, just follow the directions below.

And thanks Mom for the great Christmas Eve memories.

Broccoli, Garlic and Sun-dried Tomato Pasta

3/4 lb brown-rice pasta (cooked to al dente)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 Tbs chopped garlic
1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 tsp wheat-free tamari
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
grated Romano cheese

Drop pasta into large pot of boiling water for approximately 10 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, put broccoli in a large sautee pan with about 1/3 cup water. Cover and steam broccoli for about 5 minutes or until tender. Remove cover and let water cook off.

Add olive oil, garlic, tamari and sun-dried tomatoes to sautee pan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until garlic is slightly browned. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

Strain pasta and rinse with cold water for 10 seconds. Let drain and add pasta to sautee pan and toss everything together.

Serve with grated cheese.


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Filed under broccoli, gluten free, pasta, vegetarian

What’s for breakfast?

Today, let’s talk about pre-made breakfast items. There aren’t that many to choose from, since most traditional breakfast items are made with wheat. And most GF breakfast items fall way short of the mark, as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t had a good GF waffle yet, but it’s not that easy to do. Trader Joe’s sells a pretty decent GF pancake in the frozen section that you can just pop in the toaster and eat. It’s the closest to a real pancake you’ll find, although I wouldn’t want to eat it every day. Of course, there is always that box of Rice Chex cereal in the cabinet (see post below).

But today, we’re talking bread items. If you happen to live in the Phoenix area, you’re quite lucky these days. That’s because a small bakery, Gluten Free Creations, has opened in town. Catering to those with food allergies, this little bakery tucked behind a Midas Muffler shop bakes up some pretty decent GF items. Most are also CF, DF and more, so check it out if you can.

Although not everything hits the mark, there are quite a few items that justify the big price tags they carry. The first are the GF donuts. The best two, in my opinion, are the maple-glazed donut (4/$5.95) and the insane chocolate donut (4/$6.95). These are both so close to real donuts that I’ve even fooled people with them. That’s amazing considering most GF baked goods can only be used as doorstops. But the maple-glazed donut is a soft, cake-like donut with a yummy glaze on top. I keep a few in the freezer and just defrost when I want a donut with my coffee in the morning, or just a late-night snack.

The insane chocolate donut is just that. It’s a chocolate donut, covered in chocolate icing with chocolate chips on top. Half a donut is usually all I can do, but I sure can do it. It reminds me of those great chocolate muffins I used to be able to eat. These can also be frozen until you need them. I freeze them in individual bags, making it easy to pull one out quickly.

Do these look great or what? I took these out of the freezer for the photo and it took all my willpower not to eat them. If you want a great GF treat while meeting friends for coffee, take along one of these and you won’t feel deprived at all as everyone else dives into coffee cake and muffins.

The second item, also from Gluten Free Creations, is a loaf of bread. Yes, I know, GF bread stinks unless you make it yourself. Well, I have neither the time or desire to stay at home baking bread. I never did before, and I just can’t now. My only attempt was a complete failure. It’s like a science experiment with all the different flours, xanthan gum, baking soda, etc. I never was very good at science. I’ve also tried many of the GF bread options out there. Brown rice bread, tapioca bread, brown rice with fruit juice, etc. They could all be better served as a doorstop, being dense, inedible blocks.

Ener-G makes the brown rice bread and a tapioca bread. Neither is very edible. The tapioca was the only bread I could tolerate when I began the GF diet. Now, there is no way I would touch it. I suggest trying GF Creations multi-grain bread ($8.95). It’s pricey, but a luxury in my eyes. I usually freeze a few pieces each in separate bags, that way toast is not a problem. Take the bread straight from the freezer and toast, you just have to toast it twice–once to thaw, once to toast. I like peanut butter or butter and marmalade. But the sandwich possibilities are endless. The bakery also makes a white sandwich bread, but this multi-grain has so much more texture and taste.

Yummy. Anyone remember the fluffernutter? Well, it’s now possible with this bread. I’ll post a photo of the next one I eat, if I can get it from my daughter in time.

I would suggest if you live in the area, give the bakery a try. They usually have a few items out to taste, giving you a better idea of what you like. I’m not a big fan of the cookies or cupcakes, they have a funny taste to me. But others have just raved about them. I love the hamburger bun, which is more like a good sandwich roll. The only way to know what you like is to give it a try. You can even buy just one of something, in most cases, if you want to try it without buying a whole pack.

If you’re not in the Phoenix area, I believe the bakery ships items out of state. And no, I don’t get any kind of commission from the store. I’m just a satisfied customer with a craving for something good for breakfast.


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