Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Healthier Gratin

When I was in college and some friends and I used to do The New York Times crossword every day, I used to say that I'd only marry someone who would do the Sunday puzzle in pen. As NYT crossword aficionados know, the Sunday puzzle isn't terribly difficult--it's about a Wednesday on a difficulty scale that stretches from Monday to Saturday--it's just bigger. The part about having to use a pen is more about attitude than actual smarts (or, rather, esoteric crossword knowledge), the willingness to commit to a guess even if you have to scratch it out later. When the Science Teacher and I started dating, one of the first regular activities we did together was the Sunday puzzle. And, yes, he does it in pen. That, along with a few other characteristics, pretty much sealed the deal for me.

While we don't buy the newspaper any other day of the week, we always buy the Sunday Times. We're horribly stereotypical in our reading: he grabs the Sports; I go for Sunday Styles. But we often read the Magazine together. Sunday supper always starts with a discussion of "The Ethicist", where people write in with their ethical dilemmas for Randy Cohen's snarky, though apt answers, and ends with the Sunday crossword.

Somewhere in between we'll read "The Way We Eat," which the Science Teacher especially loves. You see, he's a meat chef; he excels at the empty-out-the-frig dinners and is always my go-to person when I can't figure out whether I should be adding cumin or thyme. "The Way We Eat" is a column for meat chefs, all about dreaming up dishes, most of which most people who value their hearts wouldn't actually make, like caramelized bacon (ingredients: 1 lb bacon, 1 lb brown sugar). I'm always a little scared that he's actually going to want to make one of those recipes involving two cups of cream and a stick of butter.

I'm a control freak when it comes to food. Sure, you might say, but you're gluten intolerant, it comes with the territory. I can't blame it on the gluten. I'm a butter-cream-and-oil control freak. I've always been this way; food is where I hold my tension. I am getting better though. When the Science Teacher made millet instead of quinoa the other night (they do look alike dry) and added some olive oil and cheese--because, let's face it, dry millet isn't terribly tasty--I almost had to make some quinoa right then without any extras. But at the last moment I took a big breath; said to myself, this is not about quinoa or millet, this is about control; and let it go. The Science Teacher almost fell out of his chair.

In any case, when "The Way We Eat" had a column recently on gratins and the Science Teacher looked at it hopefully, I was a little scared. One recipe called for a cup of cream and a 1/2 lb of brie; the other called for 6 eggs and 2 cups of cream. He assured me that we could make it more healthily with cottage cheese and fewer eggs. I reluctantly agreed.

Looking at the recipes, I realized that a gratin wasn't a last-minute meal. It was going to take over an hour to cook plus the prep time. Even though I knew the Science Teacher wanted to experiment himself, I decided to give it a whirl earlier in the day. I combined both recipes from the column, using potatoes and chard and made a low-fat cheesy bechamel to pour over top of the vegetables. When I picked the Science Teacher up at the gym later in the day, I apologized for poaching his meal with a guilty grin, saying how long it took to cook. He looked at me, smiled wryly, and said, "Is this about time or control?" It's nice that your partner knows you well, I suppose. "Both," I said. He sighed. "That's ok. I'll try it myself some other time. It's probably good that you attempted it first yourself." Home we went to eat. He loved it (and so did I)!

A Healthier Potato-Chard Gratin

This recipe might be nice if half of the potatoes were replaced with another veggie, such as zucchini.

2 large potatoes
1 bunch swiss chard
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp flour
12 oz can fat free evaporated milk
12 oz low-fat milk
3 oz reduced-fat cheddar, grated
3 oz good quality cheddar or smoked cheddar, grated
1 tsp rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp cornmeal or breadcrumbs
3 tbsp parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.

Slice the potatoes 1/8 in. thick. Grease a 7 x 12 casserole dish, and layer half of the potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Remove the stems from the swiss chard and chop the stems and leaves. Saute the stems in a little bit of olive oil for about 2 min. Add the leaves and wilt slightly. Remove from the heat. Spread chard on top of the potatoes.

Saute the onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil until soft. Spread on top of the chard. Layer the rest of the potatoes on top of the onions.

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in the sauce pan. Add the flour and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly. Add the evaporated milk and regular milk. Cook until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and add the cheese. Stir until melted. Add the salt, pepper, and rosemary.

Pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cornmeal and parmesan over everything. Pop it all in the oven and bake, covered in foil and bake for 30 min. Remove foil and bake for another 30-45 min, until the potatoes are tender and the top has a lovely golden crust.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gluten-Free Menus: January 28

After spending three weeks with Vegan Planet, which I checked out of our local library, I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to reduce their meat consumption. We tried five recipes from it--a stew, a stir-fry, a sauce, veggie burgers, and croquettes--and all were tasty and easy to prepare. Most of the recipes are either gluten-free or easily converted to gluten-free (i.e. by using GF breadcrumbs). Only a few recipes rely on wheat gluten or use seitan or a grain that not easy to substitute for.

Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: turkey cutlets with paprika, walnut-millet-celeriac croquettes (courtesy of Vegan Planet), salad
Monday: Chinese Velvet Corn Soup (from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special) and a yet-to-be determined asian-inspired salad
Tuesday: broiled salmon, brown rice, miso soup
Wednesday: potato-chard gratin (it will be a combo of the recipes in this article replacing the cream, brie, and tons of eggs with cottage cheese, lower fat cheeses, and fewer eggs)
Thursday: we're out of the house!
Friday:Cranberry and Herb Turkey Burgers (I use quinoa instead of couscous), baked sweet potato fries, challah
Saturday: Turkey Burger redux

Monday, January 21, 2008

Red Lentil-Apricot Soup

One of our favorite restaurants is That's Life Soup. The owner has a simple and seemingly successful business model: make four or five large pots of soup each weekday morning; sell soup, sandwiches, and salad all day; focus on lunch; sell whatever's left over for dinner. I was lucky enough to go to this restaurant once or twice before giving up gluten--I got to try some of her lovely, grilled sandwiches (think: manchego and mushrooms). And when I was noticeably pregnant this past summer, I got free soup. What a great sale: free soup for mamas-to-be!

After being diagnosed with DH, I ran into the owner on the street one day and asked if many of the soups she cooked were gluten-free. She looked at me in a somewhat annoyed way and said, "there are really too many dietary restrictions for me to take them all into account when I'm planning my menus." Fine, I thought, I didn't want to eat at your stupid restaurant anymore anyway. Which, of course, was a complete lie.

A few months later the Science Teacher and I went back to the restaurant and, lo and behold, all of the soups were marked if they were gluten-free, lactose-free, vegetarian, and vegan. And every time I've been there since, there has always been a gluten-free option. Hmm. Seems like quite a few customers had been asking about their dietary restrictions. The lesson I take from this? Always ask about gluten-free food, because when enough customers ask, owners listen.

During two recent trips, I found a red lentil soup with apricots on the menu. The first time it was so delicious that I went out and bought red lentils with the intention of immediately recreating the soup at home. One of the great qualities of the chef is that she keeps her cookbooks on a shelf in the small dining room. Anyone can walk right up and check out what's in the soups she makes. This recipe is adapted from the Armenian-Apricot Soup in The Soup Peddler's Slow and Difficult Soups. Note: The second time I ordered this soup, it was too sweet--if you're tempted to play, remember, a few apricots go a long way.

Red-Lentil Apricot Soup
serves 4

1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/3 c dried apricots
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1.5 c red lentils
5 c chicken stock
1 c diced tomatoes
2 tbsp lemon juice

Saute the onion, garlic, and dried apricots in the olive oil until the onions are soft. Add the spices and saute for 30-60 sec.

Add the red lentils and stock. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for about 30 min. Add the tomatoes. Cook for 10 min. Puree. Add lemon juice and serve.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bentos Love Gluten-Free Lunch

One of the first challenges I had to tackle when I went gluten-free was figuring out how to make myself an exciting lunch. Dinner at our house could be anything, but earlier in the day I was a creature of habit. I needed my oatmeal fix for breakfast and most days I took the same lunch: an Annie’s veggie burger or a peanut butter, banana, raisin, and honey sandwich on my favorite whole wheat oatmeal bread.

I’m back to eating oatmeal thanks to Lara’s, Bob’s Red Mill, and Gifts of Nature. Lunch, however, will never be the same. Annie’s burgers use bulger (try saying that three times fast), and the time may have come for PB&J to be a weekly, not daily, staple in my diet. After a few sad tries with sandwiches on gluten-free bread, I was in the market for a new lunch. I wanted to be the envy of my lunchroom, not the pitiable, gluten-free girl (no offence to Shauna).

Around that time, the Science Teacher, who has lived in Japan, told me about bento lunches. For bento newbies, bento boxes are the compartmentalized, lacquered containers found in many Japanese restaurants. They’re often filled with sushi or sashimi with rice and pickled vegetables. In Japan and increasingly in the rest of the world, bento boxes are also lunch boxes for homemade, packed lunches. Bento lunch boxes aren’t the lacquered trays of your local sushi bar. Instead, they are compact, often stackable boxes with lids packed with many different kinds of beautifully arranged food (or a just few sort of attractively arranged foods). You don't need a special box, though; I've used a square tubberware before. Check out Cooking Cute’s “About Bento” for a great explanation and “Gallery” for cute food inspiration. Just Bento has good information about getting started with bento and includes lunches that are more doable for those of us who don’t have time to cut our vegetables into flowers.

I now own a Mr. Bento lunch thermos and a more traditional stacked bento box. The Science Teacher got a Laptop Lunch for his birthday and now takes his lunches a la bento. Bentos have helped me get away from my sandwich mentality, encouraged me to try out lots of new recipes, and, most importantly, helped me focus on the aesthetic experience of eating in a way that wasn’t, for me, attached to gluten.
Above is a bento I packed for the Science Teacher in his Laptop Lunch. I pack his lunch everyday—it’s my little expression of love that's especially useful on those days when the little pottamus is fussy and we don't have a lot of time for each other. This bento contains black bean mini burgers (a recipe I definitely recommend) and a hardboiled egg on a bed of greens, a dried fruit and nut cup, brown rice with sesame oil, tamari sauce, and cherry tomato halves, and steamed broccoli with tahini-lemon sauce.
And this is a lunch I packed for myself in my traditional bento box. The top tier contains roasted root veggies, marinated chickpeas, and sugar snap peas. The bottom has baked tofu with tamari and sesame oil along with quinoa sprinkled with sesame oil, edamame, and nori. Looks good, huh? Everyone in the lunchroom definitely wanted my lunch that day.

I started this post some time ago. After reading Gluten-Free Bay's recent post about her struggle to balance the "yummy" recipes for gluten-free breads and desserts most people seem to search for with the healthier recipes that she's trying to eat more of, I decided to finish it. Bentos have been a huge part of making my gluten-free lunches healthy (i.e. starch free), as well as fun and beautiful to look at. Check out my favorite bento blogs (Cooking Cute, Just Bento, and Lunch in a Box), and try one for yourself!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gluten-Free Menus: January 14

This week I'm participating in the the Gluten-Free Menu Swap hosted by Natalie at Gluten-Free Mommy. The Science Teacher and I have decided to aim for 3-4 vegetarian meals each week in the new year. We eat pretty healthily normally, but, after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, we both want to try to eat more responsibly as well. For us, this means buying more locally-produced meat and veggies. Finding the ingredients for our meals isn't terribly difficult; we're lucky enough in Vermont to live a near great co-op and farms that produce eggs, all varieties of meat, dairy products, and even some vegetables through the winter. Finding the cash to finance our localvore idyll is something else--good food is a luxury. In this month's Wired, the "Infoporn" section contains a graph that shows where the calories, sugar, cost are in your grocery store. Unsurprisingly, veggies are high in one of those categories and pretty low in the others. I'm sure organic meat would show a similar result if they included such a section. That's where eating less of higher quality meat comes in. For our adventures in vegetarianism, I checked out Vegan Planet from our local library for some inspiration that doesn't involve plain ol' beans and rice.

Sunday: Salmon Cakes (I use canned salmon) and salad
Monday: Three-Way Sesame Coated Tofu (that would be sesame seeds, tahini, and sesame oil), stir-fried broccoli, brown rice (courtesy of Vegan Planet)
Tuesday: Cottage Pie
Wednesday: Artichoke and Chickpea Stew (courtesy of Vegan Planet)
Thursday: Cottage Pie leftovers
Friday: Artichoke and Chickpea Stew leftovers

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Eating Out and Gluten-Free in D.C.: Teaism

I don't like going out to eat as much as my husband does, but I do love to travel and traveling for any amount of time usually means eating out. Last February we took our first gluten-free trip to to Istanbul. I've always prided myself on packing ultra-light and being able to schlep my own bags on any mode of public transportation necessary so I was somewhat disheartened--I think I actually cried, silly as it seems--to have to take, what I considered, a large suitcase mostly full of rice cakes and peanut butter.

It turns out Turkey is a great place to go for gluten-free food, though. I took cards explaining my dietary restrictions in Turkish and handed them out wherever I ate. And eat I did. I ate broiled, whole, fresh-caught fish, I ate kebabs without pita, I ate simmered bean dishes. I ate badem (Turkish amaretti), lookum (Turkish delight), dried fruit, nuts, and lots of yogurt.

Dining in the U.S. is rarely as exciting. Case in point: my family and I went to an old favorite Lebanese restaurant in Washington, D.C. over the holidays. Normally the gluten-free options aren't bad: hummus, ful, stuffed grape leaves. I, however, had the flu. All I wanted was rice and OJ, which you'd think a Middle Eastern restaurant wouldn't have a problem supplying. They were out of orange juice. Not a big deal, I ordered the cranberry. But the rice? It was mixed with vermicelli. Wheat vermicelli. Sigh. I drank my dinner that night.

But D.C. does offer some fabulous gluten-free fare. Teaism, a D.C.-based tea house with three locations, does gluten-free well. Most of the food is Asian--bento box meals, ochazuke (Japanese rice and tea soup), seaweed salad, green tea ice cream--which makes it easier to find gluten-free food. But here's the clincher: on the wall near the cash register, there's a posted list of all of their dishes with columns indicating whether each dish is vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free and how to adapt each dish, if possible (for instance, leaving out the soy sauce to make the food gluten-free).
What a great idea! I could read what was safe, instead of having to question a poor cashier who may have no idea what I'm babbling about, and the cashier could with confidence refer to the list. They even offer two versions of a classic afternoon tea. The traditional menu involves scones, crustless sandwiches, and tartlets, but the Asian menu is completely gluten free with rice balls, nori, salmon, tofu, pickles, mochi, green tea ice cream, and truffles. Yum. But remember to take your own bottle of wheat-free soy sauce...