Sunday, May 29, 2011

summer means barbecues

Where I live, Central California, we fire up the grill all year long, rain or shine. Even so, summer is a whole different story. A dinner invitation can almost be assumed to be a bar-be-cue, not always of course, but usually.

Whether the main dish is chicken, steaks, tri-tip ( a regional favorite,) ribs, or veggies, the side dishes and condiments make or break a bbq, in my opinion. As my family and friends know well, I flat refuse to serve hamburgers and hot dogs. They are SO much work if done well, and they register kind of a "ho hum" on the memorable meter. People, read guests, seem to think they're simple. Come on now, if they're done right, you're chopping and slicing and dicing until exhausted. It requires so many condiments it makes my head spin. Yuck!

Another dish rarely seen on my menus is potato salad. It too is seen as "just" potato salad, and I suppose many a potato salad is poured from a plastic container into a waiting serving dish, or, and I gasp in horror as I write this, simply served from the deli container it came in. Again, yuck! My complaint is that making potato salad is tedious, boring work. Where's the creativity? More importantly, where's the praise? Nonexistent, I can almost promise you. Still, sometimes I break down. GK is a potato fanatic, I need to avoid gluten and dairy, and I often serve vegetarians, so a good potato salad sometimes is in order. I have found one I really like, adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. It is somewhat out of the ordinary, is vegan-friendly, and (and this is out of character for me) is more tedious and takes longer to make than the usual fare. Still, I am serving a lot of it this year---go figure.

I start with those adorable tiny potatoes about an inch or smaller in diameter. My favorites right now are a mix of blue, white, golden, and red potatoes packaged together, and (Yay!) grown and packaged a few miles from where I live. I'm really big on eating locally, but that's a subject for another day. These can be quickly steamed or boiled just until tender, then set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut each in half (sorry, this is tedious) and put in a bowl with a tablespoon or two each of dry wine and vegetable broth, I use Pacific. They absorb favorings better if cut in half before you add them to the liquid.

For the dressing, combine a spoonful of good mustard, Dijon or you favorite, a few tablespoons of vinegar, salt, and pepper. Start slowly on the salt, you can add more later if needed. Slowly whisk in about half a cup of olive oil to emulsify, I prefer a good California oil, but use what you like. Or just stir it in if you don't want to stand on ceremony. It will taste just as good.

When the potatoes have absorbed the liquid, gently stir in the dressing. Now it gets fun. Add the fresh green herbs that you like best, about 1/4 cup or so. Fresh dill is available right now where I live, and I have basil growing in the garden. Chervil is good, parsley is always a fresh, winning taste. Use what you like, though. Nothing ruins a recipe quicker than adding flavors you don't like just because they're on the list. Finally, stir in about 1/4 cup chopped shallot or scallions, and stir gently. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if you need it.

You should get standing ovations. Probably won't, but you should.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

eating well can be easy

My earlier rants not withstanding, I still stand steadfast in the contention that it is not too hard and not too restrictive to eat the foods that don't attack us. I am not a vegetarian, so meat is my go-to option when I want comfort food. Today is a comfort food day for me. After completely mutilating an attempt at an indulgent breakfast and having a day to busy to relax and contemplate dinner, I wanted something soothing, easy, and satisfying. Today that was chili with beans. Okay, some days I'm easy. The chili is simmering on the stove as I write.

Still, this is an easy and satisfying meal. Vegetarians, vegans as well, can simply leave out the meat and have a comfort meal worth eating---gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free and 100% natural.

I started with an organically grown onion, 2 pounds of Hearst Ranch ground beef, 3 serano chiles from my garden, sea salt, ground pepper and garlic. I am seriously unceremonious when browning meat and onions. It's hard to go wrong unless you turn up the heat and leave the room. Oops, I have been known to do just that, and they are still forgiving up to a point. After meat, if you're using it, and onions have browned to your liking, add cumin powder, New Mexico chiles, or those you prefer, along with one can of organic diced tomatoes, my favorite is Muir Glen, and continue to simmer. After a few minutes, add 2 cans of pinto beans or about 4 cups of cooked beans. I used cranberry beans I cooked yesterday. It's quick; it's easy; it's comfort food for us. I'll put some cheese on GK's plate when I serve it. Mine will be pristine. This is great, really great, with corn bread if you can eat it, and if you can, I'm still a bit jealous but getting over it.

I need a personal baker

I have never really been into baking. I loved playing with yeast dough and making pizza crusts, but cakes, pies, muffins and the rest I left to others. Shoot, there's no shortage of good bakeries when you're eating gluten, butter, cream, and sugar.

These days, though, if I want to eat something baked, I need to be able to make it. I know my way around the kitchen; I have most if not all of the requisite ingredients, the bowls and pans and scale and measuring cups and spoons, and yet it's still hit and miss for me. It isn't such a big deal, usually. My emphasis with food is to enjoy those which are naturally gluten-free. I also tend to avoid the dairy substitutes, using instead foods that are naturally dairy-free. But sometimes, like this morning, pancakes just sound appealing. Now, I can count on one hand the number of times I ate pancakes in the ten years before removing wheat from my diet. I have no idea why they've sounded more interesting lately, maybe because I read so much about gluten-free cooking, and the emphasis is often on baking.

So this morning I pulled out my scale, my endless supply of gluten-free flours, hemp milk, and the rest of the usual pancake ingredients. It was fun mixing and measuring, then making rather lovely little, maybe not so little, pancaked on the griddle, though the process took me about an hour. I didn't use my "house blend" of flours because I wanted to try a different angle. All the while, I was thinking I should be taking pictures and trying to remember exactly what steps I was taking to replicate the process.

I kept the pancakes nicely warm in the oven as I made them, 250 degrees works great, and served them proudly. Two minutes later, after gracelessly tossing my plate near the sink, I was swearing off ever making another. Mine were beautifully browned on the outside and thoroughly raw on the inside. How does that happen?

I'm going bake to sauteeing, braising, grilling, and steaming. I'm leaving the baking to others---at least for today.

Friday, May 27, 2011

you can't eat anything

I just had the most interesting short conversation with my daughter. We were discussing an ingredient she need for lemon chicken with sate sauce, dark sesame oil. She couldn't find it at the two stores she'd tried. I have a bottle or two and suggested she come by and get mine. Nothing too odd about that, even though she does live 20 or so miles away. Okay, I guess that is a bit weird, but I digress. What was really odd was the conversation that followed, and it reminded me of many I've had at work or with friends.

I can't eat several major food groups and avoid pain and suffering. This I readily admit. But somehow it gets translated into "you can't eat anything." I do hear that a lot, and I'm sure you do too, if you have dietary restrictions.  True, I can't eat processed food; Kraft does not market to me. Of course, in years past when I didn't know what was causing the pain, I didn't eat that anyway.

The truth is that the scope of what I can and do eat is tremendous. I don't eat dairy products, or gluten, or soy, or corn, or those weird gums in so much gluten-free stuff. I also don't eat artificial anything, GMOs, trans-fats, oh! and foods I don't like. But I do and can eat SO much that is wonderfully tasty and satisfying.

Like that lemon chicken with sate sauce Kristen is making for her friends and rare steaks, lobster, shrimp, salmon, halibut, mushrooms, caviar, and even French fries when I'm feeling decadent. Wine, as well as most distilled liqour, has no gluten, and the gluten-free beer is darned good. And yes, I can eat mayonnaise and eggs, olive oil, coconut anything (I am seriously in love with coconut oil and milk), chiles, cherries, berries---now, I'm making myself hungry.

Wheat, barley, rye, and their cohorts are also not the only grains on the block. I love quinoa, buckwheat, teff, even garbanzo flour. If you haven't given it a shot, you've got to try sweet white rice flour as a thickener. Lots of the gluten-free flours will work, but this is in a class by itself.

So, I'm starting on a three-day weekend today, and I will try to get some beautiful recipes, pics, and favorite foods up, starting with that chicken appetizer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

what went wrong?

I must confess, I'm a little whiny tonight. I came home from work tired, had promised GK a really nice dinner (what was I thinking?), and had great hopes. I even took pictures! Yet, and obviously based on my title, it all went to---well, it didn't go so well.

A little background might be in order here. He really prefers vegetarian or near-vegetarian fare. I love vegetables, no problem there, but meat and fish are so much safer for me. I could probably live happily on rare steaks, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sure, I'd add a salad, maybe some grilled mushrooms and asparagus, but I would do quite well with the carnivorous fare. He would like cheese and bread and pasta and...mostly what I can't eat. To be fair, he does not complain unless it's meat every night for a week, but I know that he misses what he's not eating because of my issues.

So tonight I made pasta, rice pasta with a variety of local organic squash, mushrooms, onions, garlic, fresh peas (yes, I spent 20 minutes shelling fresh, organically grown peas.)
 I was so proud of myself. And it looked good.

Okay, it looked good for veggie pasta.

But it tasted a bit like paste. Salt didn't help. GK ate it and didn't complain. Of course, I complained enough for both of us.  At least there was wine. And grass-fed, humanely-raised meat in the freezer. Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

eat what you love

The world has no shortage of blogs, certainly not food blogs, so I in no way claim to be filling a void in the realm of communications.  I am, however, excited by the opportunity for sharing and self-awareness that comes with putting one's thoughts, ideas, and feeling in print.

I have loved cooking as long as I can remember. I started at three, maybe four, and have rarely been out of a kitchen for any length of time since. My first clear memory of cooking is sitting on the kitchen floor with a waffle iron at about age four. My mother was in the backyard hanging laundry. I don't remember how well the waffles turned out, but I do remember that my mother let me play and make a mess in the kitchen to my heart's content. While I may make cracks about her cooking, I will always have her to thank for placing creativity above tidiness.

When I think of favorite books, they're cookbooks. Favorite TV shows are almost all food or cooking shows. Favorite movies have food prominently featured. I plan trips based on when and where we'll eat. So it has been seriously disheartening to slowly come to terms with my body's incompatiblity with so many, many foods. It started with discomfort, which turned to pain, which I tried to ignore for way too long. I also tried to ignore the severe drops in energy and a long list of ailments that never seemed to have a clear cause. It's amazing how long it can take to wake up to the knowledge that your world has to change if you want to continue to be in it.

Bottom line for me is that I've had to eliminate gluten, dairy, soy, corn, as well as most oils and sweeteners from my diet. For a time I cooked with those foods anyway; I just couldn't eat them. Over time, though, I've realized that it's just not workable to do that. There's just way too much temptation, and the sense of deprivation is hard to overstate.

When we started clearing out our pantry, refrigerator, and freezer items that I knew I shouldn't eat, I could hardly believe we had that much food in the house, let alone that much food that shouldn't be in the house. Under other circumstances, I don't know that I could have done it. What we removed was not junk. But I haven't looked back, at least not often.

So what my life in the kitchen is about these days is finding the best, most delightful ways to eat the foods I can eat, and there are certainly plenty of those. My best advice for anyone starting on any food path that feels restrictive, whether it be temporary or life-long, is find the foods you love, REALLY LOVE, in what you can eat. Think of the rest not as what you can't have but what you've cast aside.