The Isle of Family Dinners

I’ve always been an advocate of the sit-down family-style dinner.

I grew up the oldest grandchild one side of the family and as a little kid I remember how I loved going to visit my grandparents for dinner. Back then, there were just a few grandkids in the family and because I was the oldest and able to feed myself, I was granted a spot at the dining room table with all the grown ups. I would quietly eat my dinner and listen to the conversations around me. I remember hearing about what was new at my Papa’s job. I heard about the courses my uncle was planning to take next in college. I heard about how poor Mr. So-N-So’s arthritis was acting up again and how the Italian lady next door had given my Nan some beautiful tomatoes from their massive garden. It wasn’t very philosophical conversation, but I got the feeling that this time spent at the table, breaking bread, wasn’t about debating who was gonna be the next Prime Minister. I remember plenty of laughter and good food. Even at a tender age, I found this simple event to be very comforting. The older I got, the more I was encouraged to participate, so that by the time I had a family of my own, I felt so strongly about dining together, I was practically militant about sitting down to eat as a family.
Nowadays, I have a growing family of my own. My two sons are now busy teenagers with homework part time jobs and have a few days at Mom’s/ a few days at Dad’s kind of schedule. My partner works late several nights a week and my step son and daughter are mostly with us alternate weekends. Sitting down to dinner as a family can’t always happen, so I had to relax my “everyone-dining-at-the-table-together” rule. I’ve even learned to embrace the TV-Dinner. : )
What I find is that more often than naught, on those alternate Fridays, when my gang is all together, we’ll end up hovering around the busy island in my not-so-eat-in kitchen, munching at whatever happens to be dinner, while holding our plates. This is our catch up time. We sit if there’s room and we stand if not. We eat, we talk and we laugh a lot.
We still have plenty of sit down meals. My recent favourite is a new twist on and old standard.
“Stuffed Roast Chicken”, inspired by the tv show “Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course”.
I absolutely adore cooking shows and I think Gordon Ramsay is brilliant, especially when he’s not cussing out a bunch of rookie chefs. When this aired in the UK last year, I had a pal record and send me every episode. I re-watch them often to get inspiration.

Now you can see episodes and register to get selected recipes from the show here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/gordon-ramsays-ultimate-cookery-course/4od
(While researching that link, I also came across this link: http://www.bookdepository.com and placed an order for the cookbook based on the show. I can’t wait for it to arrive!!)

This chicken is tender, juicy and deliciously flavoured with lemon and paprika. The bird steams in white wine and gives you an abundance of pan juices at the end to drizzle over the finished dish. But the best part is the stuffing. Since going gluten free I’m always interested in finding recipes that don’t rely on bread as a main ingredient for stuffing. This one uses Spanish Chorizo and Cannellini beans. It’s amazing.
I could eat the stuffing all by itself (and I have!). One of these days I will make it just to stuff into red bell peppers and roast- I’ll be sure to post about it!
Until then, here’s my interpretation of the recipe.

Chorizo and Cannellini Stuffed Roast Chicken

For the Stuffing:
1 cup Spanish Chorizo, peeled, diced. (about 2 sausages)
1 cup sweet onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves
1- 540mL/19 oz can Cannellini beans (White Kidney Beans)
½ cup oil packed sun dried tomatoes, not drained, roughly chopped
1 large lemon
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the Chicken:
1 8-10lb (3.5-4.5kg) roasting chicken
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 2/3cups (400mL) white wine
1 2/3cups (400mL) chicken stock
bunch of fresh Thyme sprigs
2 or 3 more cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C

To prepare the stuffing:
In pan over, medium high heat, cook Chorizo, allowing the fat to render.
Add the onions to the pan and cook, letting the juices from the pan stain the onions.
When onions begin to soften, stir in the garlic. Cook for a minute then add the beans with their juices.
Add the Thyme by holding a sprig over the pan and pulling off some of the leaves. Add the sun dried tomatoes and stir into the mixture, season with salt & pepper. Remove from heat, set aside.
To prepare the chicken:
Rinse chicken if needed and pat dry with paper towel. Season the inside with salt & pepper.
Stuff the cavity with the sausage bean mixture, pushing the stuffing in to eliminate air pockets.
Once the cavity is almost full, take the lemon and place it at the opening, pulling the parson’s nose up and the skin from the breast down to cover the lemon.
Drizzle olive oil over the bird, season with salt & pepper and sprinkle with the smoked paprika. Gently massage this all over the skin of the bird.

In a roasting pan, combine the wine and stock. Place the chicken in the pan. Place remaining Thyme sprigs generously around the bird. Drop the unpeeled garlic into the pan and cover the whole thing with a tight fitting lid or foil wrap. Place the roaster in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the lid/foil, return to oven for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 180°F or 82°C. Remove chicken from the pan and let rest. Remove the Thyme sprigs for the pan, discard. Skim off the fat from the pan juices and discard. Pierce the lemon and squeeze the juices into the pan. Squeeze the garlic cloves, allowing the roasted garlic to fall into the pan. Whisk the pan juices to combine. Strain if you feel it’s needed…I never have, but I’m big on “rustic” food.
Remove stuffing from the chicken and drizzle with pan juices. Carve the bird and drizzle with more juices. Serve any remaining juice on the side.
Matched with a salad like spinach or other leafy green, this meal is delish!
Makes enough for 6-8 people.

Let Them Eat….Waffles!

I’ve always had more of a savory tooth. My favourite quick meal was a sandwich. I would throw just about anything between a couple slices of bread to munch while on the go. It wasn’t long after going gluten & dairy free before I’d already been disappointed by several big brand, store bought GF breads. I found them dense and dry. They were hard to make into a sandwich and, in my opinion too expensive. I was even let down by some small batch GF bakery and café loaves. They were definitely better tasting, but again, very dense, hard to make into sandwich and very expensive. I’d buy this big loaf, use a couple slices to make a ( rather disappointing) PB&J, toast a few more slices and then the rest of the loaf would either fall apart  or go moldy within 2-3 days. Not a great value for something three times the price of good, gluten full artisanal bread!

The inspiration for using waffles in place of sliced bread was a revelation! The idea came from my newly purchased copy of “Cooking for Isaiah”, by Silvana Nardone.

One of the first recipes I made from the book was a batch of Sun-Dried Tomato Waffle Bread. They sounded delicious to me and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Silvana’s recipe starts with her own recipe for gluten free flour, which she mixes in large batches and is then made into a large batch of pancake mix and is the basis for her waffle recipe. I’ve made a few changes since my first batch and now I use my own basic flour mix, which is a combo of fine grind brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and xanthan gum. I usually whip up a big batch and store it in a huge jar, ready to make into waffles, cookies or muffins. I’ve also made the following recipe with store bought all purpose gluten free flour mix and it turns out well, so feel free to use your favourite (just remember to add in the correct amount of xanthan or guar gum- usually ½ tsp per cup of flour for quick breads, cookies and cakes).

Here’s my version of these tasty waffles.

Sun-Dried Tomato Waffles

1 cup all purpose gluten free flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon double acting baking powder
pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
1 cup rice milk
1 large egg
½ cup oil packed, sundried tomatoes, drained, oil reserved
2 tablespoons sundried tomato oil
Italian seasoning mix, optional
Non-Stick Cooking Spray
vv

Pre-heat the waffle iron to med-high heat.
In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and oil.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until combined.
Gently fold in the sundried tomatoes until incorporated throughout the batter.
Pour about 1/3 cup batter into each grid and spread it out to the edges.
Sprinkle with seasoning blend, if using.

Close and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove, let cool on wire rack
or keep warm in an oven set at 200°F. Repeat with remaining batter.

The first time I made these, I didn’t even get to turn them into sandwiches. They were sooo good!
I’ve since enjoyed these babies with rare roast beef, avocado and mayo; rotisserie chicken, roasted red peppers and tomato; and my favourite, open faced Italian sausage and grilled veggies.

The possibilities are endless! I’d love to read how you like them.

The Beginning, Part 3

This is the last of my 3 part story of how I got here. If you have read the previous two chapters, thanks for coming back.

Breathing is even better when you don’t have strange blobs growing in your nose.
Gross eh? Yep, but it’s true.

So…why am I still on a quest? My polyps came back! Three months after my first surgery, I was back on prednisone. I’ve been through several prescriptions to reduce the size of the polyps. Sometimes, it helps but mostly it just slows them down. In May of 2011 I had a second surgery to remove more polyps. Six weeks later, they were back again.  Something had to change.

Now by the time I had my second surgery, I was in a relationship with a wonderful man, who introduced me to a friend who is a nutritionist, specializing in people dealing with food allergies and intolerances. She suggested my sinus issues may be food related. After some education and some convincing, I went gluten and dairy free. I figured I had nothing to loose except my sanity.  Although, some say I never had any to begin with. ; )

At first I thought, this won’t be so bad…I’ll just switch over to gluten free bread and use margarine and I’ll be good…..Man was I wrong! Did you know that gluten and dairy are in practically everything? Well, maybe not everything. If it’s a processed, pre-packaged, ready made food, chances are it’s full of gluten or dairy, or both.

I had already been in consultation with a friend who is also a nutritionist and I did get some advice on what not to eat as well as a few brand names to look for in the grocery store.  However, I’d always loved flipping though my collection of cookbooks and cooking magazines for inspiration, so off I went to Chapters.

The first book that gave me hope of being a happy eater once again was “Cooking for Isaiah”, by Silvana Nardone.  All the recipes in the book looked everyday easy, made my mouth water and best of all each recipe was completely gluten and dairy free. I thought, well if this is what I have to eat, I can do this!

Since then, I’ve been testing and converting of my own recipes along with the several books, blogs, and other resources, full of gluten and dairy free recipes I’ve found to inspire me in the kitchen.

My nose is still a little stuffy, but much, much better these days. I’m still battling polyps and searching for the piece in my puzzle that will keep them from returning. But my asthma is more manageable and I’m much less congested. : )

Now it’s my turn to help….If any of this sounds familiar to you, I’d love to hear from you.

In the up coming posts I’ll be sharing info about my attempts at living a  balanced, healthy, gluten and dairy free lifestyle.

The Beginning, Part 2

Fast forward a few years to 2008. I was in a new place, without cats. I was still a regular at the gym. I had gone back to school, was starting promising new career and I was newly single. (I don’t think I was allergic to marriage or my husband, but I think it’s an important part of the story.)

My nose was still stuffy and I was starting to get headaches.

In late 2008, I got a cold that made my stuffy nose worse. It felt like something was stuck up there!

My family doctor diagnosed me with nasal polyps. In early 2009, I was scheduled to see a specialist and then had an MRI of my head. Turns out my sinuses were full of these blister-like swellings. Really full. They filled all the sinus cavities in my head. No wonder I had a headache. My doctor tried me on Prednisone, which is a steroid that works but has many troubling side affects, to shrink them but to no avail.  I can’t take regular over the counter meds aka NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) due to my asthma. I needed surgery to remove them.

I was a little nervous, but if surgery would make me be able to breathe, hear, taste and smell again, I was in!  In the meantime, my polyps grew bigger and my headaches got worse. The Prednisone was causing some side effects and working out helped minimize them so I kept up my gym routine. That is until one day while in the middle of a group workout, I felt the need to sneeze.

Have you ever had a really bad cold and sneezed? It’s like the more congested your head is the harder it is to get the sneeze out. I felt like that. My sinuses were full of polyps. My sneeze had no where to go!
I thought my head was gonna explode! I couldn’t let the sneeze happen. If I did my head would explode and I’d leave a mess all over the nice clean weights and mats and my fitness loving friends. I tried to hold it in, really I did.  The sneeze won. Out it came with, as I learned later, a sound that resembled a squeaky, deflating balloon. My head certainly did feel like it had exploded, but for some reason, my navel felt like it was on fire too.

Apparently sneezing with polyps can lead to hernias too.

I had the surgery for polyps in July of 2009. The hernia got fixed two months later.

In the Beginning…

Welcome to the beginning! “Beginning of what?” you ask?

This is the story of my ongoing quest to breathe better.

Everyone likes breathing. It’s a good thing. It’s better if you don’t need allergy pills or asthma meds or several different kinds of steroid nasal sprays to get the job done.

I’ve decided to share my quest, with the hope that perhaps someone out there will read it and be able to help me find the missing piece of my puzzle.

First, a little background.

In 2004, I was a married, stay at home mom to two amazing little men. I worked part time at a job I loved. I had network of great friends and family. Sounds pretty good huh?

Well, except for a stuffy nose. I don’t just mean a little stuffy; I mean a stuffy nose that never ever went away. I always sounded like I had a bad cold. I felt like I always had a cold. My ears were plugged. My senses of smell and taste were affected. Hearing and smelling and tasting are pretty important, right?

Did I mention my passion for singing and cooking? Some people used to call me the Kareoke Queen. I gave up singing when I couldn’t hit the notes because of the congestion in my stuffy nose. My little boys, my friends and my family loved my cooking and baking.

I was loosing the ability to enjoy my favourite things, so it was time to make a change.

I thought I had a stuffy nose because I was a smoker. So, after many years and several failed attempts, I finally quit smoking. Then, of course, I started to gain weight. (Proving to myself that cigarettes really are an appetite suppressant) I got a membership to a gym and became a regular. After a year, I was working out 5 or 6 days a week. At 33 years old, I was in the best shape of my life. I had abs! I was buff!

And I still had a stuffy nose.

For years I’d been told my stuffy nose was due to seasonal allergies. I’ve been a seasonal allergy sufferer for as long as I can remember. When I was little my eyes would get itchy and watery and when I gave in and rubbed them, they would swell shut.  As an adult, I didn’t suffer the itchy eyes…I had an arsenal of allergy meds at the ready to avoid those puffy eyes.  But they had lost their oomph. All the “extra strength 24 hour relief” pills did was keep me awake, my stuffy nose remained.

Thinking that I needed something stronger than the over- the -counter -extra -strength -24 allergy and sinus pills I would buy at my local pharmacy, I went to an allergist.

Turns out I’m allergic to various grasses, trees, weeds, and dust mites.  Oh and cats.
I was told that I needed to eliminate as many allergens from my every day life.

Did I mention that at the time, I lived in a suburban, Southern Ontario neighbourhood, with parks and trees everywhere? Oh, yeah, I also lived with three cats.  This was gonna be tough.