Pssst… I think Spring is here.

I started out trying to write this post in my favourite spot. At my dining room table with my back to the window as the afternoon sun poured in, warm on my back.  I was feeling too fidgety to write. Well maybe not to write but certainly too fidgety to sit there. We’re finally having some warm weather here in The GTA and I thought I’d take advantage of it before the predicted thunderstorms roll in. I decided to go outside.

I think it’s pretty amazing that a week ago, I posted a piece about Mother Nature’s mood swings and now, here I am, sitting on the back deck and there are so many birds chirping it’s noisy! Thanks to the songbird clock I used to keep in my kitchen when my boys were little, I know that the cacophony I’m listening to includes Robins, Cardinals, Canada Geese , at least one woodpecker and, I’m pretty sure a Blue Jay or two. In fact, there’s a rather brave Robin eyeballing me as I sit here typing. I think I must be too close to a particularly wormy patch of garden.

Robin

The sun is warm on my face. There is a gentle breeze at my back and I’m getting the first real good look at my backyard since moving here in December 2012.  There are lots of big old trees. Lots of dog walkers. I like this old neighborhood.  It’s pretty and makes me think of planting basil, and tomatoes and marigolds, firing up the barbeque and enjoy a glass of wine while cooking up something yummy.

Whatever I cook, you can be sure there’s some kind of sauce to go with it.

Gluten free Barbeque sauces can be hard to find as so many sauces rely on malt vinegar. Here’s one of my favourite barbeque sauce recipes. It’s a little sweet, a little tangy, a bit smokey, with a wee kick to it. During barbeque season, this sauce never lasts longer than a week in my fridge.  Don’t worry about serving it to the kiddies, the alcohol gets cooked out.  I’ve used it on chicken, beef, pork…veggies, even fruit. It makes an awesome “Hobo Pack”, mixed with potatoes, veggies meat patties (and peaches when they come into season). Feel free to play with the chipotles to suit your tastes.

Dee’s Bourbon BBQ Sauce

1 large onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
4 garlic cloves, minced (2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups ketchup (12 oz)
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
½ cup bourbon whiskey
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon dry mustard
2-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
Salt & pepper

Cook onion  in oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until  tender. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30-40 minutes.

Makes about 5 cups.

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Help! I Just Went Gluten & Dairy Free!

My thoughts are with the people of Boston, including the thousands of Canadians who were expected to run the marathon. It it a terrible thing to have happen, anywhere, anytime.

Recently, two of my Facebook pals told me they were going to go gluten and dairy free.
The family of one pal was already dairy-free and this new issue was proving to be a challenge. She mentioned she had been eating quinoa. But just as my family has gotten sick of the ham leftovers from Easter, I got the impression she was getting a bit tired of it. “What else can I eat?” seemed to be the question. The other pal was jumping in with both feet based on the advice of her doctor.

So here’s some basic advice for anyone thinking about or newly transitioning to a gluten and dairy free lifestyle.

  1. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
  2. There are many cultures that don’t use a lot of gluten and dairy. For example, Chinese, Japanese and Thai foods don’t use dairy. In Indian food, swap a bit of coconut milk mixed with lemon or lime for  the yoghurt to marinate chicken. Find a place that sells corn tortillas and go Mexican. Try avocados! There is nothing like homemade guacamole and I use it when I’m craving something savory and creamy instead of cheese. This is a great opportunity to explore food from other cultures. Mix it up!
  3. Go simple. Buy more ingredients and fewer ready-made products. There will be fewer labels to read! Not every dinner needs a starch. Lunch boxes don’t have to have sandwiches, just think of all the amazing things you would find on a fruit and veggie tray or put in a wrap…then skip the wrap!

It’s really easy to focus on all the things one can’t have when one makes a drastic change to their eating habits. I remember getting caught up in “replacing” all the bread and cheeses and butter etc, etc.
I won’t tell you it’s an easy thing to do but it really isn’t the end of the world.

I’m an ex-smoker and when I quit cigarettes (nine years ago!), I used a patch until I was ready to go without. Going gluten and dairy free is much, much easier and even though I’ve never heard of a gluten or dairy “patch” there are  many great products out there to help you along.

Here’s a short list of safe products I try to keep on hand at all times.
Where there is no “brand” name, please read labels carefully!

San-J Brand Gluten Free Tamari Soy Sauce http://www.san-j.com
Mayonnaise
I use Helman’s
Diana’s Brand Marinades (several are dairy and gluten free)
Selection Brand Worcestershire sauce (found at Metro Grocery Stores)
Kozlick’s Brand MustardCheck them out at http://http://www.mustardmaker.com or take a trip to Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market in person, to sample all the flavours. They are blow-your-mind amazing and all but two are gluten and dairy free!
Tinkyada Brand Pastas, check them out here http://www.tinkyada.com
King Soba Products, they make yummy noodles and stuff! Check them out at http://www.kingsoba.com
Chex Brand Cerealscheck them out at http://www.chex.com  I mix ‘em up with stuff like nuts, chocolate chips and dried fruit. I snack on them like trail mix.
Rice Noodlesthink wide Pad Thai style noodles and skinny vermicelli noodles to make for an awesome stir fry!
Basmati and brown riceCook it and keep it on hand in the fridge, cold rice is the best for making fried rice!
Canned Coconut Milk– Marinate with it. Cook with it. I even mix it with rice milk and froth it for my morning cappuccino!
Fortified/Enriched Rice Milk-I like other kinds of “mylk” too but I find rice to have a neutral flavour, especially for baking. Buying fortified brands ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
Corn Tortilla Chips-check the labels to be sure they’re all corn!
Soft (Fresh) Corn Tortillas
These can sometimes be hard to find  , but they are sooooo good!
Salsa
Humus
Quinoa
(of course) – Treat it like rice and keep it ready in the fridge. I mix a scoop with coconut milk, brown sugar, dried fruit and nuts for a yummy hot cereal.
Ready Made Chicken BrothI like Kirkland Brand, in tetra packs from Costco.

And if you live in the Oshawa/Whitby area of Southern Ontario, Halenda’s Meats, see http://halendas.com has an impressive list of products that are gluten free.

With all these items in my kitchen, I can whip up a snack or full blown meal in no time and never miss what I can’t have.

Hmmm, I’m getting hungry.

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.