Food Foto: Alterna-lunch

I haven't had to pack a work or clinical shift lunch since last August.  While that's generally a glorious piece of fortune, it doesn't mean that lunch at home is always exciting, either.  Especially if I've cooked breakfast and will be cooking dinner in a handful of hours.  So occasionally, I'll throw together a nice selection of various items around the kitchen, with little preparation, that does not involve two slices of bread.

While homemade hummus is delicious, the next best thing is doctored plain hummus - my local grocery store sells a can of literally just pureed garbanzos, nothing added, for about 99 cents.  I add a couple teaspoons of sesame tahini, olive oil, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic powder.  The chips you see were originally soft corn tortillas who got bent in half under something in the My-First-Refrigerator.  Brushed with olive oil, cut into pieces, sprinkled with garlic powder (I told you, I love garlic), rosemary, and ground flax, and baked.  Accompanied by raw almonds, roma tomato slices, celery sticks, and some cheese for a lunch with tons of flavor, fiber, healthy fat, vitamins, and with zero added sugar.


THIS JUST IN: 'How to Cook Just About Anything' round-up

One of my flavorite food sites, The Kitchn, has a new round-up of their best cooking How-To articles (complete, as always, with gorgeous food fotos).  Check the article out here, and talk to me about your feedback!


The Boyfriend Cooks: "Rice & Beans", or "How to Feed Your Starving Girlfriend (or Self)"

Sir Benjamin writes:

I love eating.  I love the taste, the spice, the texture, the temperature, and the whole "being full" thing.  Unfortunately, I'm a terrible cook [Ed. note: no, he's not]. I can mess up cereal if left to my own devices.  A while back I decided I was going to learn to cook some basic meals that could be made quickly.  Rice and Beans was my first, and seems to be a favorite.  That's the "after" picture above.  Looks good, right?


On Location: Coming soon...A Valentine's Pizza Party!

I had a table-full of Valentines (plus my brother-in-law) this year, for a giant pizza party.  Pizza parties can be a sad event for gluten freers...unless they feature bake-at-home g-f pizza dough from none other than Jules Thin Crust Pizza, and g-f vanilla mocha cupcakes baked with love.

Look for the full write-up soon!  Happy Valentine's Day!


Spaghetti and That's a Spicy Meat-a-balls!

Q: What's your ultimate comfort food?

So I've been feeling sick this week.  Not sick in a really specific way that I can effectively combat with all of my health tricks, but more of a general blah that makes me want to nap every three hours.  My theory is that I'm fighting off a flu that would have been catastrophic had I not diligently gotten my flu shot in December, but that's probably more of a means to pat myself on the back for getting a flu shot.  Either way, I feel exhausted, a little feverish and achy, and exceptionally unmotivated.

If we're then talking about what kind of food makes sense when we're in such a sick-ish funk, you'd think I'd be throwing together some of my Chicken Vegetable Soup. But no.  The Italian-American in me craves spaghetti and meatballs as the ultimate comfort food...go figure.  I used to try to replicate my mom's sauce recipe, but years of getting it not-quite-right led me to believe that it's physically impossible to make homemade sauce as good as hers.  So I make my own, simple version that suffices.  While it's pretty easy to whip up some decent sauce and boil some gluten free spaghetti, the true challenge is a tasty gluten free meatball that holds together without becoming something you could use to play squash.



Cara Investigates: The New 'No Gums!' Manifesto

Q:  Do you use xanthan or guar gums in your baking?

I do, and I have since I started baking gluten free.  Gluten is the protein composite in wheat, barley, and rye that provides many foods with their shape and elasticity. So logically, if we bake using flours that don't contain gluten, we need to find some substance to mimic the effect.  I've read countless disastrous accounts of g-f baking where someone forgot to add such a substance, and they were left with a giant pan of crumbs.

There are a few replacement options, the most popular of which has seemed to be gums: xanthan and guar. Gums are complex little carbohydrates that are naturally produced through fermentation, expressly for use as thickening and binding agents in food.  Most g-f baking mixes for breads, cakes, and muffins contain at least one type of gum, at a ratio of something like 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon to one cup of g-f flour. I can personally attest to using xanthan gum in all my baked goods, with satisfying results.  An 8 oz. package will run you around $11, but mine has lasted for at least a year.

Sounds legit, right?  So what's this new NO GUMS baking trend circulating the internets?


Food Foto: Superbowl Dinner

Q:  What are your Superbowl must-haves?

I threw dinner together instead of watching Halftime, and from what Facebook updates have told me, that was a wise decision.  Because I wasn't particularly interested in either team this year yet felt compelled to watch the Bowl anyway, I opted for a snacky dinner - fries, chips, and a melt.

Yes, all of those things are pictured: herbed yam fries with ketchup, crunchy kale chips (a new addiction), and a turkey/provolone/tomato/dijon mustard melt on homemade gluten free multigrain bread.  Very simple, relatively healthy compared to what one might otherwise eat on this day of competition, and easily made without gluten ingredients.  Look for the recipes at a later date.


Nutty Apple Steel Cut Oatmeal

Q:  Which foods entice you to actually eat breakfast?

Oh, silly breakfast.  I get so uninspired by breakfast food that I often wake up, get distracted doing something else, then have to force myself to eat something to let my body know it's time to operate normally.  So I need a little encouragement sometimes, something to look forward to.  Studying nutrition taught me to be sure not to skip a morning bite due to the proven health benefits - primarily to regulate your metabolism, but also to encourage a healthier and better nutritionally-balanced diet throughout the day.  That Cup Noodles for lunch, eaten purely out of starving desperation, is never the best choice since it's probably made of spaceship materials.

Oats have been a point of contention for gluten free people, since many cannot tolerate them even when the variety is certified g-f.  It's enough to make people not want to even experiment.  I, however, relied on oatmeal far too much before going g-f that cutting it out entirely would only be an option of extreme necessity.  Luckily, that's not the case for me.  Bob's Red Mill makes my favorite variety, and if they aren't available to you locally, the site allows you to order by the package instead of a case.  I've started to prefer the texture of steel cut oats to regular rolled oats, even if the cooking time might be a smidge longer. Adding a couple extra ingredients to give it some variety can add nutrition and maybe even rescue you from the morning doldrums.


Chicken Vegetable Soup

Q:  Which foods are your natural defense against wintry weather?

Winter came early to the Northeast, and proceeded to pummel us all into a frozen state of cranky submission. I don't even think the groundhog's lack of a shadow can do us any good at this point, also considering he's a known trickster.  The best plan of attack is to max out your library book allowance, join Netflix, make some soup, and hunker down until things start to think about growing again.  And if you live in a warm climate, make soup and take it to the park, because you can.

Chicken soup is an easy, awesome winter meal, and it can make a ton for leftovers. It's even suspected to be scientifically helpful for sickness, working to resolve cold symptoms faster.  For the gluten free individual, soup falls into the "lurker" category, as in, it can contain unassumingly sinister hidden ingredients.  Most canned soups contain straight-up wheat, even if they're vegetable-based, and most others use broth or bouillion with unfriendly ingredients.  Even if you aren't g-f, maybe ask yourself how exactly wheat finds its way into a can of chicken soup, and opt for making your own.  

O, Hai!

Another blog...fabulous!

Actually, I hope it will be a kind of a little fabulous.  And if you don't like it, I probably will, so it's already a win.

My job starts in May 2011, a year after leaving my full-time job in cancer research to finish a nursing degree.  I've had a lot of time to spend at home, and certainly more time to pay attention to cooking and frugal grocery shopping than when I was working a full-time demanding job and going to school at night.  To live comfortably on no income, I've had to make some compromises - eating out less-to-never and making a dollar do some interesting acrobatics at the checkout line.  Being gluten free adds an extra complicating factor, since the special flours and products can be, well, not budget-friendly.

The weird thing is, instead of regarding it as some terrible, painful chore, I've actually found myself enjoying the challenge of cooking all the time, gluten free, on a budget.  It's helped me deal with the sometimes intense anxiety of unemployment, i.e., I may not have a job, but I can make these awesome cupcakes!!  I also made quite an awesome discovery that a gluten free lifestyle CAN be practical, affordable, and universally appealing without spending your days eating stale, discounted rice cakes.  In fact, I found that spending less money on food led to a more interesting and certainly healthier diet that doesn't even have to be terribly time-consuming once you find your groove.  If going gluten free has taught me anything, it's that things from nature are what we probably should eat, and for everything else, we need to learn to critically read labels.

I cook or bake nearly every single day of my life, and frequently take point-and-shoot pictures of it, and sometimes even post them to Facebook.  I spend an unnamed amount of time curating my recipe binder and shopping at the six grocery stores and five fruit stands within walking distance of my apartment.  I don't have cable, so my cooking-show-watching is minimal, but occasionally I am granted an episode of Jacques or Lidia on PBS that inspires me to make something new.  So why not post it for your maybe-enjoyment?

It would be silly to say what exactly you can expect from this blog, but I intend to post recipes with plenty of novice photos (both my own recipes and others' I am test-driving), tips, product reviews, and probably other material with thin connections to cooking or baking.

If you have ideas, feedback, or questions, leave a comment and I'll always do my best to respond.

Otherwise...we're off!