FOOD FOTO: Eggcellent

Lady Gaga said it best: We're all born superstars.  After a night of hail storms and freezing temps with the heat conspicuously absent from my apartment, I was feeling a little less like a superstar this morning.  So I made a star-shaped egg, natch.

Making shapes out of food is probably the simplest way to put a smile on your face or the faces of those who are lucky enough to have your cooking at their disposal.  Use your favorite metal cookie cutter, spray the inside generously with cooking spray (make sure it's flour-free spray, gluten free friends) or brush it with a little light-tasting olive oil, place in a prepared pan, and crack an egg or pour some pancake batter in.  And have a better day!


Tostones Gringos (or, Some American's Version of Tostones)

Mmm, tostones.  The cure for the common french fry.  I don't remember the first time I tried these delicious bundles of savory fried plantain, but it was sometime after moving to New York.  In fact, before I knew what a plantain was, I bought a couple at a local bodega, thinking they were enormous, super under-ripe bananas - that was a confusing time.  In my travels to Latin American and Caribbean countries later on, it was impossible to get through a meal without finding some form of plantain, either green or maduro - no complaints from me.

Plantains are an awesome fruit to work with - a green plantain is great for tostones and mofongo (something I have yet to try at home - I prefer Dominican style over Puerto Rican style, but neither is exactly simple to make), or a ripened, yellow-to-black maduro can make an array of delicious, sweet side dishes or desserts.  In my neighborhood, costs range from 25 cents apiece down to 10 cents apiece on sale, so it's an incredibly cost-effective food.  Also?  Tostones are easy to make and incredibly satisfying.


THIS JUST IN: Gluten Free Dumplings by Friedman's Lunch!

Dumplings.  The one favorite food that I haven't eaten nor tried to replicate since cutting out gluten almost two years ago.  Sir Benjamin and I could have bought stock in Vanessa's Dumpling or Prosperity Dumpling up to that point.  Nothing like sinking your teeth into a piping hot pork or veggie dumpling in exchange for a mere quarter, but I also used to buy frozen pot stickers from Sunrise Mart and various groceries in Chinatown, to throw together a quick soup or brown bag lunch. I even made pork dumplings a few times from precut pastry, finishing them in a bamboo steamer.

My friend Caroline has just scooped me on a dumpling revelation of sorts - Friedman's Lunch, a fabulous Westside lunch spot (in Chelsea Market), has changed my dumpling fortune.  The owners launched Feel Good Foods, a line of frozen gluten free foods inspired by owner Vanessa Phillips' own dietary needs.  And (drumroll, please) they've started with DUMPLINGS!  The site also lists the stores where Feel Good Foods can be purchased, including Gluten Free Mall if you're not near one of the locations.  Pick some up for an awesome soup - broth of choice, thinly sliced carrots and mushrooms, your favorite green (I like bok choy or gai lan), and a couple dumplings topped with sliced scallions. Time for a trip to Chelsea....


FOOD FOTO: Crock Pot Love

Not feeling fabulous, yet again, creates a genuine need for uncomplicated cooking.  My eyes shift to the Crock Pot, my $18 little (not really that little, actually) dream investment.  I read a comment on a cooking site the other day, that referred to the Crock Pot as something in which to cook things like Velveeta and Hamburger Helper, natch.  Well, I know mine has never seen either of those, mostly because I can't eat them, but also because of the wealth of wonderful possibilities of this quite laissez-faire method of cooking.  Many refer to this fabulous machine as a slow cooker, which it is, but mine is actually a Crock Pot - not a fancy new space age one, though it is programmable (time by the half hour and high - low - warm), and never gets too hot.

Two things I had yet to cook in Baron Crock Pot: apple butter, which I've never cooked at all, and steel cut oats.  I'd heard chatter over the internets about an overnight oatmeal of sorts, which sounded amazing.  In short, both were cooked over two nights - the apple butter on low for 15 hours then finished in the food processor, and the oats for 9 hours on low.  On the advice of many, rather than cooking the oats directly in the stoneware, I used the Baron instead as a bain-marie, or waterbath, with the oats and liquid in an ovenproof glass bowl.  I added some dried fruit, nuts, and honey to the oats when I woke up, and cooked on high for another hour.  Both were delicious - I'm fine-tuning the recipes, and I'll post next time I give them a go.


Cara Investigates: Gluten Free Beer Made from Barley?

It's true.  Sir Benjamin came across a 4-pack of bottles of Estrella Damm Daura from Barcelona at the local grocery, priced at $6.99, then "looseys" (I didn't realize this term applied to beers as well) for $1.79 at the local European market.  The only gluten free beer I'd tried up to that point was Redbridge, a sorghum-based domestic beer - it's not bad and not terribly difficult to find, but the taste is a little too light and sweet for me.

I was never a serious beer drinker, but the occasional Stella or Franziskaner Weissbier was always a welcome switch from wine, and I'm pretty sure I drank more beer than water in Germany and Austria, since it tends to be cheaper at restaurants.  If I want something carbonated, I'll usually stick to cider - Original Sin and Badger are two of my gluten free favorites, but they can be hard to find.  So imagine my surprise when Sir Benjamin excitedly showed me to the beer aisle, claiming to have found another gluten free beer!


THIS JUST IN: Bittman does it again!

I wasn't really that familiar with Mark Bittman, a food journalist most recently for the New York Times, until I watched him eat and drink his way through Spain with Mario Batali via PBS.  It was an enjoyable and maddening series, maddening only because he got to be there instead of me.  Bittman has developed a really specific style, as embodied by his "Minimalist" cooking column - a bit of culinary simplicity in the world of truffle oil and $1000 chocolate gold-leafed desserts.

"Creamy, Brothy, Earthy, Hearty" is a nice, simple guide to throwing together a good pot of soup, based on your preference for main ingredients and style.  The article covers 12 quick and flexible recipes that you can adapt to your liking and/or pantry availability.  While there are hints of spring in the air here and there in the Northeast, winter is definitely still hanging on by a thread - make a big pot of soup and tell me about it!


On Location: Tu-Lu's Gluten-Free Bakery

I got a tip on Tu-Lu's Bakery a few weeks ago while drinking a glass of spiked pomegranate punch at an incredibly fun party, so I'm frankly quite surprised that I remembered enough details to actually locate the place.  After checking out the completely glowing reviews on the bakery's Yelp page, it was time to give it an earnest once-over.  It's the only dedicated gluten-free food establishment in the city that I'm aware of, so that alone merited a trip.  Sir Benjamin and I had some business on the Upper East in the morning, so we took advantage of the above-freezing temps and walked down to the East Village.


Take Time to Smell The Flours

Q: What flours do you rely on?

Before I embark on my baking recipes (I do actually bake, though you wouldn't know it from the blog so far), I wanted to provide a little background on gluten free flours first.  One of the scariest parts of the diet transition for me was cracking open a recipe book and seeing "amaranth flour" or "quinoa flakes" as an ingredient...what is a "quinoa" and why does it flake?  Why does "amaranth" sound like a mumble?  Many questions.

It's a learning process.  Luckily for me, there were plenty of internet resources that do a fine job of explaining.  The rest is really just trial-and-error, and after awhile, you'll get an idea of which flour produces a particular result, and which you like the best.  If you're not gluten free and following this blog as a personal favor to me (I owe you one), maybe consider shaking things up a bit and giving these flours a try.

Instead of reinventing the floury wheel, I'd rather list a few good resources for you to check out and bookmark, then add a few tips and personal preferences.


THIS JUST IN: Gluten Free in the Major Leagues

Celiac Central reports that reliably awesome Phillies team member Raul Ibanez has recently gone gluten free, related to a gluten allergy diagnosis.  Watch the interview here.

In related news, the Phillies will be hosting a Celiac Awareness night at Citizens Bank Park on July 8th, complete with activities for the whole family and gluten free refreshments.  And the sweet satisfaction of watching the Phils pummel the Braves.

Mark your calendars!