Freezing Foods for Later

As I write this, I have a big pot of Bolognese sauce simmering on the stove. It smells incredible. Normally, this isn’t a sauce I’d make in the middle of summer, but I had a large number of tomatoes ripen while we were out of town. I believe they wanted to be turned into sauce.

I have two plans for this sauce. First, a mid-week lasagna. Since I use no-cook gluten-free noodles, I can throw it together pretty quickly. Dinner will take about an hour total (including time to let the lasagna sit after baking). Having the sauce made in advance means the hard part is done. Continue reading “Freezing Foods for Later”

Gluten-Free Travel: Catalina Island

Our first trip to Catalina Island after I went gluten-free was not the stuff of legend. What with this, that, and the other, I basically lived on nachos for three days. My stomach was not amused. Neither was my waistline.

This past weekend, we went back for our usual long walks, zip lining (I’m an addict), and reading on the beach. Oh, and eating. This trip, I was determined to eat well. And while I didn’t rule out nachos, I’m proud to say I managed the four-day trip with nary a cheesy chip passing my lips.

Sigh. Now. Craving. Nachos.

I digress. Avalon, Catalina’s main town, is known for tourist food. By boat, it’s about an hour from Los Angeles (and the boat ride is free on your birthday!), so it’s popular with families who want to get away for a short period of time and tourists to the region. This mix of people means a lot of the food tends toward, well, gluten-filled. Pancakes are very popular.

However, if you put a bit of effort into your dining choices, you’ll discover lots of great gluten-free meals in Avalon. None of the restaurants mentioned is dedicated to gluten-free cooking, so there is a chance of cross-contamination. I am happy to say I had zero problems with anything I ate, and didn’t need to dip into the food stash I brought on the trip. With one exception that I’ll mention in a moment. Continue reading “Gluten-Free Travel: Catalina Island”

Menu Planning Tips for Gluten-Free Cooks

Until I quit gluten, I was a bit of a “hey, whatever” person when it came to menu planning. In the back of my mind, there was generally a vague idea. So vague, we ended up eating out a lot more than was good for our wallets.

There did come a time when I correlated eating out with feeling bad and eating at home with feeling good. I have a theory that I instinctively cooked foods that didn’t make me sick. You’d think it would not have taken me so long to figure out that gluten was a serious problem, wouldn’t you?

Now I plan a bit more carefully because while I enjoy the social aspects of eating out, sometimes it’s just more work for me — deciphering menus! quizzing waitstaff! — than I’m in the mood for. Plus I like that I can control little things like portion size, calories, and even levels of salt when I cook at home.

Because I have a crazy schedule, I build in options for days when I have to stay late at the office, when it’s just too hot to consider cooking, or when the fruit I’m planning to use gives up the ghost for no good reason (I kid: the fruit always has a good reason…usually me waiting too long!).

When I plan meals for the week, I consider variety (fish, veggies, red meat, chicken) and the potential for leftovers — I prefer to pack leftovers for my lunch, and so whatever I make for dinner has to be good enough for lunch.

I also try to introduce a new item into our menu every week. This week, it was za’atar, a spice blend (sumac, sesame seeds, thyme and other seasonings — apparently, there is no definitive recipe for za’atar), which I used to season roasted broccoli. I can’t wait to try it on chicken!

You can be as formal or casual as you want when it comes to menu planning. Some people — and I admire them so! — create formal grids, detailing all meals being prepared (including a leftovers schedule). Others (ahem, me) jot a few notes on an index card. Whatever your approach, knowing how food will get on the table every day of the week will make your gluten-free life so much easier.

I promise.

Here are a few tips for menu planning:
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  • Set aside a specific time every week to do planning, recipe review, and research. This can be as little as 30 minutes, or as long as two hours (you know who you are, person who loves reading about food!). Create your shopping list after you’ve planned the menu.
  • Identify tried-and-true recipes to populate your menu. Sure I try new things, but, as I’m sure is true for most households, I tend to rely on about a dozen or so meals that work well for us.
  • If you clip/save recipes, create a system for retrieval, both for online recipes and paper items. Hmm, this is advice I should follow more closely.
  • Pay attention to your schedule! If you’re running around with band practice, sports, errands, and other chores, chances are you won’t be able to put together an elaborate meal on a Wednesday night. Note the  time you have available for meal prep on a daily basis to make sure what you plan to serve fits your real-life schedule.
  • Plan for double-duty meals. If you’re making chicken one night, can you cook extra for a meal later that week? For me, I factor in lunches. I far prefer bringing my lunch most days, and knowing I have delicious leftovers really helps.
  • Determine which meals you’ll be cooking. In our house, we’re on our own for breakfast and most lunches, so I just need to make sure I have GF options for me for those meals (and that the husband has plenty of oatmeal in stock; he’ll either have leftovers or go out for lunch). This lets me focus on planning dinners only. Your household may vary.
  • Repeat your menus. There is no need to  create a brand-new menu every single week.
  • Keep pre-made meals or quick-and-easy recipe ingredients on hand for last minute schedule changes or emergencies. We all have them.
  • Knowing I have a plan for meals is a huge stress reliever. Not only do I plan what will be cooked, I make sure I have the necessary ingredients on hand. Nothing throws me off like discovering a crucial item is missing (like, oh, the chicken part of grilled chicken).

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What are your menu planning strategies? Any great tips? Let me know in the comments.

Gluten-Free Travel: Milan, Italy

Like every gluten-free person, I think a lot about food. And when it comes to travel, food looms large in my planning — both during the trip and when I arrive at my destination. And when that travel involved a business trip to Milan, Italy, well, my “What am I going to to eat?” radar went wild.

It wasn’t hard to worry; Italy is the land of pizza, panini, and pasta. Plus, well, my Italian is less-than-fluent.

Initial research suggested I was worrying for nothing. Apparently, Italy, as a whole, is very aware of issues for people with celiac disease and/or gluten intolerance. Children are tested for celiac at a young age, and GF foods are widely available. Continue reading “Gluten-Free Travel: Milan, Italy”

Gluten-Free is Not A Marketing Thing — Or Vons Gets It Wrong

My local Vons is great for gluten-free shoppers. They carry a wide range of gluten-free products such as Udi’s breads, Schar’s pasta, and even desserts. It’s clear there’s a corporate mandate to attract the gluten-free shopper, to the point where the store installed a special gluten-free section.

Sure, the bright green sign is often obscured by cardboard dumps filled with gluteny foods like cookies, but I have come to appreciate the gluten-free crackers and quinoa.

But something has happened to make me very nervous. A few weeks ago, I noted Annie Chun’s Ramen in the GF section. Needless to say I was thrilled. Ramen! Then I looked at label and discovered wheat is a prominent ingredient.
Continue reading “Gluten-Free is Not A Marketing Thing — Or Vons Gets It Wrong”

Meatless Monday Pastas for Gluten-Free Cooks

I love the idea of Meatless Monday (info here), even though I’m abysmal about practicing it. I seem to do Meatless Wednesdays, which, you know, doesn’t have the same ring to it. Even if you’re an avowed carnivore, having a vegetarian (or even vegan!) meal once a week is a great way to shake up your cooking routine. And one easy way to achieve this goal is a pasta dinner.

Gluten-free pastas are readily available just about anywhere, and while the selection of shapes isn’t wide (think mostly spaghetti and penne shapes, with a few others tossed in every now and then), the taste is pretty darn good. The most common base ingredients are brown rice, corn, or quinoa. I tend to prefer the corn-based GF pastas as they are a bit more forgiving when I accidentally leave them cooking for too long.

Needless to say, pasta dishes generally come together very quickly, so you can have a great meal on the table in less than half an hour. Make the sauce while your water is boiling, cook the pasta, toss with sauce, serve! This thirty minute window holds true even if you’re making pesto from scratch.

In addition to aforementioned pesto — a great, flavorful sauce — there are other ways to dress up vegetarian pastas. A simple marinara sauce can be perfect if you’re looking for a light meal. Top the dish with a bit of shredded basil. If you’re a fan of Alfredo sauces, just combine heavy cream, butter, and grated parmesan for an elegant sauce.  Season to taste, add some finely chopped parsley for color, and serve.

One of my favorite additions to pasta is grilled or roasted vegetables, your classic pasta primavera with whatever’s in season. You can use an Alfredo sauce, a tomato-based sauce, or simple olive oil and garlic with a touch of lemon zest. In our house, we use zucchini ribbons as an elegant accompaniment to a lightly dressed pasta.

Legumes like chickpeas add hearty protein to a pasta dish. Pair them with feta cheese, spinach, and an olive oil and garlic sauce. Grilled or steamed asparagus and a balsamic vinegar-based sauce is always a good choice.

Another favorite for vegetarian pasta meals is a quick sesame sauce, using sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, and a little bit of (optional) sugar for an Asian twist on pasta night. Take it a step further with peanut butter for a peanut sauce. Use traditional Asian-style rice noodles or Italian-style noodles — your choice.

If you’re feeling ambitious, a vegetable lasagna makes for a great change. Chunks of eggplant or zucchini or any other vegetables fill in for the meat in your layers. Or roll a ratatouille-style combination of veggies in cooked lasagna noodles, cover with marinara sauce, and bake for 20 minutes (until heated all the way through).

Obviously, there is no end to the pasta-bilities (sorry, couldn’t resist!) when it comes to meat-free pasta dishes. What are your favorites? Tell me about them in the comments!

Tip of the Week

Reserve about a cup of pasta water in case you need a bit more liquid to help your sauce coat the pasta thoroughly. I usually scoop out a bit before draining my pasta, and I generally use a half cup at the most.

Menu of the Week

Pesto is one of my favorite additions to pasta, rice, potatoes, meats. You can go traditional with basil, olive oil, parmesan, and pine nuts. Or you can use kale and walnuts. Artichoke hearts. Here are some great suggestions at Love and Lemons http://www.loveandlemons.com/2012/08/03/pesto-ways/ — as you can see, it’s all about variations on the basic recipe.

  • Pasta with Pesto Sauce
  • Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Making Chicken Breasts Less Boring

I’m going to be perfectly honest: my least favorite part of a chicken (or turkey) is the breast. Especially when I’m cooking the whole bird. Even with brining, the breast tends to be overcooked. Boneless, skinless breasts aren’t much better.

(Much to my mother’s dismay, I prefer to cook my chicken on the bone. She sometimes wonders if I was switched at birth.)

But chicken breasts are quick and easy — perfect for weeknight meals — and I make them a lot. They’re quick on the grill, in the oven, even pan-roasted. And, with a little bit of effort, it’s easy to elevate the boneless, skinless chicken breast into something fun and tasty.

This is terrific for the gluten-free diner, especially since it sometimes seems we spend way too much time finding and preparing foods. Sometimes, we just want our meals to be easy.
Continue reading “Making Chicken Breasts Less Boring”