Archive | November, 2011

Thou shalt not compare

29 Nov

This past weekend was Mantou’s Mom’s birthday (I won’t reveal which one). Another birthday, another allergen-free cake. I picked the recipe and made it (though MM made the frosting). I quite liked it. It was a bit different from the cake at Mantou’s 1st birthday, but not too different. In general, the wheat-free cakes seem to be dense and spongy. I assume it’s the rice flour that contributes the most to these properties.

My folks called to wish MM happy birthday, and inevitably we talked about the cake. After mentioning the sponginess, my mother asked if it was spongy like angel food cake. It’s at that point that I realized the problem with making allergen-free foods. We always compare them to their allergen-filled counterparts. Every time we make a wheat-free, egg-free, milk-free, nut-free cake, we compare it to our memories of the “normal” cakes we’ve had all our lives. I realized that this is unfair to our new creations. It’s like constantly comparing the baby in the family to the eldest instead of just celebrating the baby’s unique qualities and faults. So I’m determined to stop comparing and start assessing based on our allergen-free foods own merits. Perhaps a new vocabulary is in order. Instead of “wheat-free bread”, maybe we should just call it “pano”. “Wheat-free cake” could be “kuko”. Then when we serve it people won’t jump to make that comparison.

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Tune into this Tuna Casserole Recipe

21 Nov

Although tuna casserole is considered a comfort food for many, I didn’t grow up on this stuff. On special occasions my dad would make a mean meatloaf; and at times as an after-school snack, I’d make mac and cheese from the box. That’s pretty much as far as it goes for traditional American comfort foods with me. I bought a couple of cans of Starkist Albacore tuna from Safeway the other day and had no idea what I would do with them. I thought about making a tuna salad but that would entail looking for substitute mayonnaise. So I researched instead on tuna casseroles without wheat, dairy, eggs, or nuts. It’s pretty tough to find one that matches to a tee.

The first result on Google for “gluten-free, dairy-free tuna casserole” was from food.com with pretty good reviews (5 stars from 5 reviewers). It uses an olive oil based mayonnaise. (So I guess I could make a tuna salad – there is a olive oil based mayonnaise – who knew?!) The second result came from a Celiac Disease website and it used a non-dairy cream of mushroom soup and non-dairy cheese. (Hmm learning about new dairy-free products everyday). Wholefoods rounded out the 3rd result, but it did not get a good review, only 1 star from 1 reviewer.

With those recipes in mind, I went out and bought a jar of egg-free mayonnaise and shredded non-dairy cheese, but forgot about the non-dairy cream of mushroom soup. However, I was still not “feeling” it with the recipes. So I continued down the Google result list and came across Dance While You Cook’s Stellar Tuna Casserole – and I stopped looking.

This recipe was so detailed and came with pictures that it looked like something I could do. It did take a few more pots and pans than my usual wok, but I followed her preparation method pretty closely and my tuna casserole came out fantastic. I have to work on Mantou, I do not think he likes peas, but he liked the tuna, noodles, and mushrooms. My husband went for 3 servings!

It’s better if you follow her detailed instructions on her website. She provide pictures too. However I did have to make some alterations to the ingredients mentioned in her recipe

  • 16 oz rice pasta  <— I had an opened pack of Tinkyada rice noodles but it wasn’t enough so I also added some quinoa pasta (I think Mantou preferred the rice pasta) – you can pretty much use any kind of pasta)
  • 3C almond milk <– can’t do nuts, so I used unsweetened coconut milk beverage from Trader Joe’s
  • 2 TBS cooking sherry <– didn’t have any sherry so substituted Michu rice wine
  • potato chips or sliced almonds <– no potato chips, if there were I would eat them in one seating, also we’re nut free so no almonds. I had some Glutino bread crumbs in the pantry so used that instead.
  • paprika <– could have sworn I had paprika but it was cayenne pepper. Probably should stick with paprika here.

Ok, so check out Dance While You Can’s version of tuna casserole. It’s another keeper but it does take some effort and time to prepare.

Beef Kebabs and Quinoa Tabbouleh

15 Nov

I found a great recipe to use with my grass-fed ground beef and found it on the Wholefoods site of all places.  It’s listed as “Grass-Fed Ground Beef Kebabs” but from reading the comments below, it’s pretty much Beef Kofta, a Middle Eastern meatball – mixture of ground beef and/or lamb with spices and onions – skewered and grilled. So there are other variations, but I stuck with this particular recipe.

For the life of me I cannot cut an onion without tearing up! And in this particular recipe I had to shred it! Goodness, my eyes were so blurred I had to move away from the kitchen not only once but about 3 times! Is there a method to cutting onion without crying?

The rest of the preparation for this recipe was not at all hard to do. The only thing different from the recipe directions was that I put it in the oven versus grilling them. I don’t own a grill so it’s a bit difficult to do without. I do however have an oven with a broil setting.

Ingredients

1 1/3 pounds ground grass-fed beef
1/4 cup grated white onion
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon fine kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

In a large bowl, mix the ingredients together, except the olive oil. Use your hands for mixing. Form the beef mixture into 8 oblong patties and thread 2 per skewer. Note: Make sure the beef has come to room temperature before broiling them. Lightly brush the patties with oil and place on top of a wire wrack on a baking pan lined with foil. The pan should be about 6 inches away from the top burner. Let brown for 3 minute then turn them around and broil for another 3 minutes.

I also tinkered with the associated recipe on the Wholefoods website for gluten-free Tabbouleh using quinoa. I used all the ingredients mentioned in this recipe except I handled the preparation a little differently. I blame it on my husband who said that to make good tabbouleh is to chop up all the ingredients to itty-bitty pieces. It’s a lot of work but is only the best way to make it, I say just put it in the food processor and chop-chop…. but alas I chopped everything up by hand (with some assistance from dear husband).

By the way, prepare the quinoa ahead of time to allow for it too cool or reach room temperature. Also, the recipe calls for 1 cup quinoa, that should be cooked quinoa. I prepared 1 cup of uncooked quinoa, I thought it looked like a lot. It’s also probably why my husband, my expert on tabbouleh, mentioned that our dish looked like it didn’t have enough parsley.

Ingredients

1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup of tomato with seeds removed and finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons, more to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and crushed red pepper to taste

Directions

Combine all ingredients together in a large serving bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, black pepper, red pepper and lemon juice. Serve room temperature or chilled.

I thought the meal was amazing as did my husband. Mantou was a huge fan of the beef kebabs but not so much for the quinoa. I think it was too flavorful for him and his little tastebuds couldn’t handle it. My husband said we should introduce all kinds of flavors to Mantou now. I think we might as well starve him, Mantou knows what he likes and doesn’t like.

Happy Cows Live in California

15 Nov

Yes, we did it, bought ourselves a quarter cow. Actually since it was our first time doing so, we decided to find 3 other families and split the 1/4 cow so that means my family only gets 1/16th of a cow. With technicality aside, and finally getting the cow from the butcher and putting those cuts into our freezer, we could actually probably fit 1/8th of a cow in our freezer. Good to know!

So we bought our beef from Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma, California. The cows are grass-fed (no corn or grain) without antibiotics or hormones. The process was pretty easy, we just filled out a form online and communicated mostly via email. We ordered it early October and we picked it up from a butcher this past weekend. (Redduck drove about 1.5 hours to the butcher to pick it up. He decided it would have been more worth the trip if he had planned a pit stop at one of the breweries out there.)

One thing I’m not sure about is how the flavor will be since I’m so used to getting commercial beef. I’ve read some people say that the beef is tougher since there is less fat. Oh, will have to experiment with that. If anyone knows how “different” to cook grass-fed beef, please let me know!

Feeling a bit Thai’d Up

15 Nov

My friend was coming over for dinner and I had not defrosted any meat to prepare a meal and was not feeling especially excited about cooking at the moment. I was thinking about my favorite restaurants in the neighborhood and Thaiger was the first restaurant that popped in my head. But the weather was rainy and cold so I felt too lazy to trek over there since it was north of me. So I figured I’d make my own Pad Thai (minus peanuts and egg). Haha, yeah from not feeling like cooking to totally wanting to make Pad Thai is very random for me, but I got excited becausse I’ve never made it before. Plus even though I didn’t want to go out to get pre-made Thai food from my favorite restaurant, I still had to go out to the grocery store to buy most of the ingredients. Yeah I had a very confusing night, but I had to pass the grocery store anyway, from picking up Mantou from daycare.

But I was glad I did, the pad thai turned out great. When I was looking up recipes online I actually started with the search being “gluten free vegan pad thai” and I got a few good results but nothing that really looked authentic.  But when the results actually come up saying “authentic” then it’s worth a second glance; from the blog Savory Sweet Life, I used her Pad Thai Recipe.

This was my first attempt to make pad thai from scratch so I had to buy some vital ingredients. For the sauce I needed to buy tamarind concentrate and palm sugar. In the recipe the sauce was “ready” after the palm sugar dissolved into the fish sauce, tamarind, and garlic mixture and the blogger suggested to taste it to see if it needed to add extra sugar or spice. When I first tasted it, it was soooooo salty! I was a little scared that I might have to throw it out. I added two tablespoons of brown sugar just to tame it a bit. Fish sauce was the culprit, I have no idea of there is a certain brand to buy or if all fish sauce was this salty. Anyway, I put the sauce aside and prepared my rice noodles and tofu.

I only needed to boil the rice noodles for ~5 minutes, I didn’t want them to get too mushy. In the meantime I cut up a block of tofu into thirds then sprinkled some rice flour on them. I heated up some corn oil and let the pan get warmed up then tossed two slabs of tofu into the pan. When the bottoms of the tofu turned golden (leave them in the pan for a couple of minutes untouched) I flipped them over so the other side would turn brown. When the two were done I put the third slab onto the pan to fry. Then I put the tofu aside, let them cool before further cutting them into cubes.

I heated a wok and added some oil then added the garlic and onion, letting the onions soften. I added the carrots next since I like carrots to be cooked a little longer. Then I added the cooked noodles and tossed them all together. Added the Pad Thai sauce and evenly mixed it in with the noodles. I added the bean sprouts, green onion, then tofu to the noodles and again tossed them in the wok. When I tasted the complete dish the saltiness of the sauce disappeared. The Pad Thai all came together at the end. I did get a complaint later that it was a little too sweet, so I should have not added those 2 extra tablespoons of brown sugar.

First Aid Preparation

13 Nov

One of the child preparation classes I did not take before Mantou was born was CPR or Basic First Aid. It was not because I didn’t feel the need for them, it was more of trying to find a reasonably priced place and one that covered adult, child, and infant. I thought I could find a class through the local fire department since they had mentioned training classes on their website. After many failed attempts to contact the fire chief, I figured it was a lost cause… probably lack of funding or interest from the county. Then a friend who is a pediatric hospitalist said he would teach me and my husband, but he never got around to it and then decided to go off to Africa for a year. So now Mantou is almost 21 months and I still hadn’t taken any classes.

So I found a deal on Facebook of all places. (Somehow the “deals” on FB doesn’t work now. I tried to print my voucher before going and the system was down. Fortunately, the instructor was ok with the email receipt I got from FB). For $60 I would get both CPR and Basic First Aid, which normally is $60 a pop. I was not very excited about going because it meant going to two different three-hour sessions. My eyes were already crossing.

The instructor, John, from Safety Training Seminars was so awesome and energetic. He made the whole training go by so quickly. I couldn’t even believe the whole 6 hours was up when it was done. My husband and I took the community CPR class first. There were about 6 people in the class so it was nice and small. John was repetitive but not annoying in ingraining what is important for starting CPR. I felt pretty good about it and we got to practice on maniquins.

The second class was the Basic First Aid, with 5 people. This part of the training was mostly by video with occasional “interruptions” by John to emphasize certain parts of the scenarios being shown. We did have a couple of hands-on training opportunities with our classmates (I even got to pretend I had a gun shot wound). The first few minutes of any injury is so vital and important. The section on Allergies and Asthma really got my attention since it’s a valid scenario for my family. It’s not to say that the rest of the scenarios were not equally important; handling poisoning and burns was also eye opening.

I’m very glad I finally had the opportunity to take CPR and First Aid training. I feel pretty confident that if a situation occurs, I could help an individual in those first crucial minutes before the EMS/EMT comes along to take over. I am also more confident that I will know what to do if Mantou or any child is in harms way. Today was a good day!

Oven-Baked Taro Fries

12 Nov

So after making and eating sweet potato fries the other day, I decided to try a different root. I’m talking about the big heavy taro roots, not the little individual bite size ones. I also tried baking them differently than from the sweet potato fries since those didn’t come out as crispy as I wanted them. I used aluminum foil instead of parchment paper to see if that made a difference.

I peeled then sliced a large taro root into rectangles that made a decent size fry. I dusted them with some garlic powder and coated them with extra virgin olive oil (since that’s the only kind I had in my cupboard, however I learned that regular virgin olive oil is better since it has a better high-heat  index and won’t burn). I then sprinkled some white rice flour over them hoping that this would help get the taro fries crispy since it usually works in the fried version. I placed aluminum foil on a baking pan and tossed the coated fries onto the baking pan, making sure all fries were in one layer.

Oven was preheated at 400 degrees and I started baking them for 7 minutes first to just see how they would bake. I turned the pan around and baked for 11 minutes. My husband added another 10 minutes to that and again turned the pan around. We decided to bake it another 5 minutes.

Once out of the oven I added kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on top of them, let them cool for a bit, then served. The taro root fries were crispy!!! And tasted yummy. We probably didn’t need the extra 5 minutes at the end. So either the recipe turned out crispy because of the foil or because I added the rice flour… will have to investigate another time but am happy with the results!

Buckwheat Pancakes

6 Nov

That extra hour that we got when we change our clocks back this morning is marvelous! It also helps that the sun came out as well, considering yesterday was grey, cold and rainy. Even Mantou woke up with a lot of spunk. He was jumping all over the house (our poor downstairs neighbors already dislike us). So for breakfast to keep the mood right, I decided to make some buckwheat pancakes from scratch. I even ground up my own buckwheat flour, in a coffee grinder no less.

I found the buckwheat pancake recipe from Fitter than Choc but I didn’t add the blueberries. I just made them plain. They were quite delicious and I will love to make them again. Even the amount was perfect.

Ingredients 

  • Egg replacer for 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup soy milk (I used sweetened)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup  applesauce
  • 3/4 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown rice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Directions

In a medium-size bowl, prepare the egg replacer according to the instructions. When that is mixed well add the milk, oil, and maple syrup. Mix together then add the applesauce.

In a large bowl, add buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Mix well.

Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and mix well.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour some oil into the pan to lightly cover the bottom. Pour a ladle full of batter onto the pan and let it sit until bubbles form and pop. Flip them over and let the other side cook until slightly brown.

Serve warm.

The pancakes came out fluffy but still a little heavy in weight. I blame the applesauce but I’m sure it is the type of flour too. I thought the recipe was great and thought using both the egg replacer and applesauce was a clever way of substituting for 3 eggs.

Spicy Sweet

5 Nov

My co-worker found a recipe for sweet potato fries, however, I couldn’t remember the link so I dug around and put together my own version. Most online recipes for sweet potato fries adds a little spice. I wanted to add cinnamon on top of that, so that’s what I did.

Ingredients:

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • fresh black pepper
  • cumin
  • cinnamon
  • paprika
  • coarse salt/sea salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub the sweet potatoes or peel the skins off. Slice the potatoes till you get them to the thickness you prefer. Put them in a bowl and lightly cover them with olive oil. Add some black pepper and cumin with a dash of paprika and sprinkle of cinnamon.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the sweet potato on the baking sheet in one layer. Put it in the oven on the top rack. Letting them bake for 25 minutes. When ready add  a dash of salt and serve warm.

Side note: I had tried putting the sweet potatoes in at 400 degrees for 23 minutes but the fries came out soggy, so for the second batch (since 2 sweet potatoes did not fit as one layer on the baking sheet) I upped the temp to 425 and baked for 25 minutes. The sweet potatoes were more crisp this second time around.

Mantou enjoyed a few fries but the spice (probably from the fresh ground pepper and paprika) had finally got to him so I will have to figure out a way to make a recipe that isn’t as spicy. Maybe a sweet version with cinnamon and sugar.

Not A Spook Out of You

2 Nov

One more year not to worry too much about the aftermath of Halloween. Why? Because Mantou does not realize that those sugary treats that he’d been going door-to-door for, will not be consumed by his little mouth. Last year for Halloween, Mantou dressed up as a little tiger. We went to Stanford Shopping Mall in Palo Alto, CA and met up with my cousin and her little monkey. For the most part, Mantou stayed in his stroller and had no idea what was going on around him. All his little treats were consumed by his parents throughout the following week. 

This year Mantou dressed up as a little purple and green dinosaur. It was a hand-me-down costume from his cousin A. It fit a little snug but did it’s part.

He got to dress up for 3 different occassions. I took him to a shindig at Whole Foods Market to get a picture of him with the pumpkins in costume.  He wasn’t amused. We got a couple of treats at the cheese department but instead of grabbing the cheese snack (since he’s allergic to dairy) we got 2 dark chocolate mini bars.

The 2nd time he dressed in his dino costume was at his cousin C’s birthday party, she so happens to be born on Halloween day – what a day to share with little ghosts and gobblins! No trick-or-treating then since we were celebrating the day before Halloween.

His 3rd time dressing up in costume was on Halloween day. After picking Mantou up from day care I put on his costume, which by this time he was excited to wear, and drove him straight to the mall. The place was already bustling with kids. I didn’t think Mantou would know what to do but this guy was a pro! He went up to one of the scariest costumes, stared at the guy (like a stare down), and the guy gave him candy! So the next store we went to he did the same and that person gave him candy. When we got home, Redduck was back from work he took him across the street from our place to a small court. There were only a few houses giving treats. Mantou did what he learned at the mall and put out his little Frankenstein bag and waited for someone to put a treat in it.

At home I poured out his little stash of candy and started to separate what he I mean me and his dad can eat for him. Out with the chocolate (milk chocolate), out with nutty chocolate bars, out with the toostie rolls (dairy), out with the twizzlers (wheat), out with the silly bands (choking hazard). We did save the couple of lollipops, the banana flavored taffy, peppermint, sweet tarts, sweeties, and stickers. So why did we even go trick-or-treating? Mantou is still too young for sugary sweets anyways, but how can I deprive him of the whole childhood experience. We can’t keep Mantou in a social bubble and I want him to go out and do things like other kids. It’s a matter me being a mom and teaching him what he will have to avoid. So what if he’s only 19 months old… he’s soaking up everything like a sponge so I’m sure he’s taking some notes.