Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sweet noodle kugel...say it 10 times!

Yesterday, I was reminiscing about living in NYC, and getting kugel from the local kosher deli. And I thought why not...I could do this. If my grandparents could see me now they would be so proud, and very shocked! I remember once when I was younger visiting my grandma in the Bronx and eating at a kosher deli, I asked for an egg-cream with my pastrami sandwich.....oooh, the looks of daggers I received. I might know a fraction more than I did then, like meat and dairy don't go together, but that is about it sadly. Along with kugel, I do love me a nice big bowl of matzo ball soup and a knish...now my goal is to make those in GF fashion.

This week started with kugel, and it came out great. I really think the key was the noodle. And since traditional kugel calls for egg noodles, us GF-ers are kind of out of luck, or so I thought. But one of my new favorite gluten-free products, a corn pasta from Hungary, Cornito fit the bill! Corn pasta from Hungary, who would have thought? But it is delicious and not only tastes just like traditional egg noodles, it is pretty cheap. I stock up on them for $2.79 at the Gluten-Free Trading Company in Milwaukee. I used the sea wave shaped pasta, and I thought it worked extremely well, and even a gluten eater would have an extremely hard time telling the difference.

This tasty dish disappeared in under 24 hours from our kitchen.

8 oz egg-type noodle (I recommend Cornito)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 eggs
1 1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup crushed corn Chex
1/4 cup brown sugar

Pre-heat the over to 350'

Boil the noodles for about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile mix the sour cream, ricotta, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.

Drain the noodles, and spread evenly in an 8x8 glass pan, sprinkle with the cranberries, and cover with the cheese mixture. Let sit 5 minutes.

Meanwhile place the corn Chex and brown sugar in a plastic bag and crush into crumbs. Spread evenly over the kugel.

Bake for about an hour or until a knife comes out clean from the center.

Enjoy warm and as leftovers for breakfast the next morning!

Es gezunterheyt!

GFIW: That Kitchen Jasmine rice mixes, March 29

When you don't have time to do something from scratch it is nice to know there are yummy side dish alternatives out there. I used Thai Kitchen's lemongrass and ginger jasmine rice last night as a side with salmon marinated with my San-J teriyaki sauce and roasted asparagus. This was really tasty, and instead of adding olive oil according to the directions, I added a 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil, which gave it a nice flavor. I probably could have just eaten this straight out of a bowl and only this.

Many Thai Kitchen products are gluten-free, including all of their simmer sauces, rice mixes and soups. They clearly posts all of their allergen information. Thank you Thai Kitchen!!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vanilla cupcakes with mascarpone frosting and Barbie

The other week Z turned 5, and her wish was for a princess cake to top last year's cake:

Last year's cake was a gluten-filled cake, it was actually my last meal before going gluten-free. I made the cake from scratch, it was a pound cake and delicious! Z's friend's still talk about it.

Now, I don't have doubts that we could have recreated this gluten-free, but we felt like doing something different this year, and for lack of time to test a cake before the big day, I decided to break down and use Betty Crocker. It is nice that at least we have that to fall back on with reliable results, though I always feel a little dirty when I don't make something from scratch.

So, I cheated with the Betty C, but I redeemed myself with the frosting. So yummy and so simple, I could have just eaten the bowlful all to myself while watching Bridget Jones.

This year's creation:

Z was extremely pleased, and it was actually a lot easier than last year's cake, without having to do the fondant dress.

For the cake, I used two Betty Crocker mixes and made two dozen cupcakes. Instead of water, I added buttermilk to the mix. Buttermilk is one of my favorite ingredients and always have it on hand.

For the frosting, it was super simple and luxurious tasting:

1 16-oz. container of mascarpone (I use BelGioioso - all of their cheeses are gluten-free!)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all the above ingredients with a rubber scraper or hand-mixer until well blended and smooth. Chill for an hour or so. Using a cake spatula, top each cupcake with the frosting, and top with your favorite gluten-free sparkles, I used Cake Mate pink crystals.

Bon anniversaire Z!!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Watermelon cups with feta & mint

In anticipation of warmer weather, and because I just happened to have all the ingredients on hand for this unique recipe, I just had to try it. However, I can not take credit for it, I took the recipe from the current issue of Rachael Ray's Everyday magazine.

I love the way it presents, but next time I may just make it as a salad and mix all of the ingredients together rather than spend the time scooping the watermelon and stuffing with cheese. I think the colors would look great together in either form, though perhaps the salad would make the watermelon a bit watery.

These were extremely tasty, and difficult to walk by and not grab one.

Grazie Rachael!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Craptastical Wednesday!

And not in a glutened way, but in a flu (not stomach) way. I get through the entire winter healthy as can be, and now end of March, I have a fever, and feel awful! Could it be the pig flu finally taking me down??

I woke up feeling a bit rough, but still forced myself to Zumba, but came home feeling full-blown awful!

I can't help but wonder....since I was glutened last week if that weakened my immune system and voila, I got sick! I hadn't ben glutened in at least 6 months. I am obsessive about washing hands, washing everything really, but my daughter did have a birthday party, and maybe I picked it up from someone.

And I am the worst sick person, I cannot be sick quietly. M will quickly agree.

I have 3 layers on top, one being a very ugly, but very warm fleece, a hoodie and 2 pairs of socks on, bundled in 2 blankets, and I am still freezing. I have had soup, I have taken all my vitamins and then some..guess I need to take some Tylenol or Advil...I forgot about that.

I sent M out to get some Cherry Garcia and about to watch Bridget Jones'...my all time favorite movie. Let's hope this works.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happy GF anniversary to me!!

Last week, March 16th to be exact, was my one-year gluten-free anniversary. I would have written last week, but ironically, the day before my anniversary, I was glutened! For the first time in like 6 months and in my own home! It definitely brought me down a few notches and I just wasn't in the mood to celebrate. I was all ready to get sushi that night and really celebrate the great accomplishments I have made in the past year, but after feeling super terrible the day before, the last thing I wanted was raw fish and to celebrate food.

I ended up cooking fresh veggies and tempeh over pasta for dinner the night before, and it turns out the tempeh (by Westsoy) I used must have had gluten, because within 45 minutes, I was in so much pain, I wanted to go fetal. It felt like my insides were on fire and took me 2 rounds of pepto, many cups of chamomile tea and a good night's sleep to feel semi-comfortable. Extremely frustrating when I have been so careful for a year and to have this happen in my own home after doing great for so long.

Anyway, back to my belated celebration...it seems like just yesterday I was so overwhelmed and constantly reading the forums on celiac.com and trying to get my head wrapped around my new life. Because, let's face it, that's what it is...an entirely new lifestyle. Without those wonderful people on the forum I would never have been able to get through it. I remember reading when people reached their 1-year mark and being so in awe, thinking I would never get there. It was definitely frustrating in the beginning, and sometimes I would be at public events or dinner parties and have to go to the bathroom and just cry because I felt so deprived and like an alien in the room. But since those early months it has become almost second-nature.

I used to get so depressed wishing I could just eat what was put in front of me, no questions asked, like all "normal" people. I wanted to go to a restaurant and just order and be done with it. I hated to feel like I was missing out, I hated to feel like people felt sorry for me, I hated that people didn't take me seriously, I hated that I had to be extremely careful and sound like a broken record to anyone involved in preparing any food for me. I was angry and bitter, and just plain sad. I am someone who has always loved food, and frankly have always been very careful about what I eat...I have always checked labels and avoided products with long lists of ingredients that I didn't understand, avoided overly-processed foods, and tried to eat as natural as possible, and grew what I could myself, so I just didn't feel like it was fair to be given this new obstacle. Like how could I be doing everything "right" and then be inflicted with a disease surrounding food!? I was really in a miserable place. I never knew anything about food intolerances or allergies, but I did know about reading labels, so at least I had a handle on that, but it did take a while to fully understand all of the nuances of cross-contamination, and am still constantly learning.

And the reactions I received from people was in itself enough to send me in tears. The worst was, and still is, people who think I am overreacting, that say 'you can have just a little...', or 'I know someone with celiac and they still...' Or some people who as soon as I walk in their house and offer everyone something and turn to me and announce 'oh, but I don't have anything for you,' which is perfectly fine, because I am not expecting anyone to cater to me, but why announce it and make me feel uncomfortable and like some kind of leper???

Ok, I am going to move away from the negativity, because I no longer feel negative and angry. I can now go to a dinner party and not feel deprived, I can walk by the bakery section in the grocery store and not think twice, I finally feel comfortable with it. Of course I miss certain things, because who am I kidding, it sure would make life easier, but I am ok with it. For one, it is not worth the discomfort; and 2, it is not worth knowing it is damaging me. Though, I must say, before my diagnosis when I ate gluten happily with no pain, it sure doesn't seem fair to get pain now when I cut it out, but I guess it serves as my own personal indicator for when I know gluten entered my system.

People will ask me if I feel better after going gluten-free, and it is difficult to answer, because I didn't think I had any symptoms before going gluten-free. I definitely didn't have the obvious, typical symptoms, nothing that stood out that something was wrong. I didn't have stomach aches or diarrhea. Actually I had the opposite, my system just wouldn't go, and finally it works! Though looking back now I can see that the anemia was a sign as was not being able to 'go'. I have had extreme anxiety since the birth of Z, and I must say, I do feel much more relaxed after going GF. I am not sure if it is the actual absence of gluten in my body, or because I was so anxious that I would have something wrong with me, and then I found out I do, and so far, I am still alive! When I say I had extreme anxiety I should explain where it came from, since I feel like this is also a piece of my puzzle.

(warning, this next paragraph is a bit of a detour into pregnancy)

In the 36th week of my picture-perfect pregnancy I started getting awful mid-back pain. My OB said it must be a strained muscle and sent me to physical therapy. I was going daily and it just got worse, and I was living on Tylenol and hot baths for the pain, and it did nothing. I was up in the middle of the night in tears and short of breath. I would call the OB on call and explain to them and say I was going to the go to the ER, and they would tell me that it is 'normal' pregnancy pain and the ER would send me home. And what did I know, it was my first baby. All I know is that I wanted a morphine drip and never to be pregnant again. I went in for an appointment and again they said I was fine (though they said this with no bloodwork), I had no idea if this was my heart, lungs, or what, but something was up. I would take super hot baths, even though I knew it was not a good thing to do when pregnant, because it was the only way I could sit still for 5 minutes. I stopped going to work, because I could not sit in one place, I could not go out to eat, I could not sit still period, I had no appetite, I stopped eating, I lost over 5 pounds (which is not good when you are pregnant), I felt horrible. On a Friday, when I was exactly 38 weeks, I demanded I be seen and by my OB, not one on call. We went in, and after they finally did bloodwork, they determined I had pre-eclampsia and later found out, the pain was actually my liver and I had developed severe pre-eclampsia and HELLP. I had heard of it, but knew it was rare, so never really thought of it as a possibility, and I didn't have the common symptoms. No swelling, no headaches, no spots in my vision, no high blood pressure, no protein in my urine, but this was what I had! I was told I was not leaving without a baby, and quickly, by emergency c-section, we had our baby girl. We had no camera, and our phones were out of power...we had no clue we were having a baby that day! Z was healthy at 4 1/2 pounds, but was definitely smaller than she should be at 38 weeks, so it was determined that she had IUGR, so obviously I had the pre-eclampsia brewing in me for quite a while, but the doctors did not catch it, even at one of the top ranked hospitals in the country! So my point is....I am sure that this experience "turned on" celiac for me, but was it celiac that was underlying and caused me to have a greater chance of developing pre-eclampsia/HELLP. I have desperately wanted another baby, but am terrified to go through this again, and risk Z loosing her mommy. I told myself after being GF a year, I will revisit getting pregnant and meet with yet another perinatologist for an opinion if and before we should TTC (try to conceive). I am really hoping that with gluten out of my system, and my increased awareness on getting my health in top condition I would be able to have a successful pregnancy...as long as I get on it soon, I am not getting any younger!

So after this whole pregnancy experience, I was so paranoid of my health. The idea that my body failed me as it did when I was pregnant was a constant fear, and I developed panic attacks on a regular basis. I would wake up on a lovely weekend morning thinking I had some terrible disease and obsess about it. And any thought of me actually having something sent me into a day-long panic where I could concentrate on nothing else. It was honestly crippling. I went to therapy, yet refused medication, and therapy did little to help. So it is amazing that once I went gluten-free, I don't feel that anxiety or panic anymore, or not nearly as often. It is a great freedom! Now if I could just cure my fear of flying (though being married to an Englishman means I can't avoid it)!

This past year I have met so many wonderful people, and learned so much. 13 months ago, I would never imagine this is where my life would be, but I don't regret it at all. And if I can provide even one person with a piece of knowledge that I have learned then I feel really great. Sometimes I surprise myself with the knowledge I have retained from so many amazing sources out there. And most of all, I have to thank my super supportive family, even my 5-year old Z will warn me when there is gluten in something and when she plays kitchen she is sure to offer me only gluten-free cakes!

Happy anniversary to me!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

GFIW: Nut Thins, March 22

One of my favorite things to snack on are Nut Thins by Blue Diamond. Even before I was gluten-free I was obsessed with these savory crackers, and could eat a box in one sitting if I didn't try hard to stop myself. Take note, these are not dairy or nut-free, but if you can eat dairy and nuts these are a total treat. I eat them with cheese, serve them with my artichoke dip, or just grab a handful and eat them plain as I walk through the kitchen (I know, I need to stop snacking!). At under $2 a box they are much cheaper than many of the speciality gluten-free snacks, though these are labeled gluten-free.

They come in almond, hazelnut, pecan, sea salt, cheddar cheese, country ranch, Smokehouse and BBQ. My favorite flavors are the almond crackers and the Smokehouse ones. M loves the new BBQ flavor, but honestly, they are too spicy for me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

GFIW: Nestlé's Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate, March 15

Oops, with all of the excitement of Z's birthday I missed posting a GFIW last week, so I will make it up this week with a real good one.

With a chill still heavily in the air, nothing much tastes better than Mexican hot chocolate. I discovered this treat many, many years ago when still eating gluten, and you can imagine my elation when I called Nestlé to confirm this is indeed gluten-free. Abuelita hot chocolate has a unique spicy flavor and is a great afternoon treat. Z loves this too and refers to it as "mommy's hot chocolate".

Be sure to buy it in disk form as shown above, and not instant as it is not gluten-free.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Interview with entertainment journalist Monika Agorelius and living gluten-free

Monika Agorelius, a close friend and a Swedish-born journalist, director and producer at CloseUp Productions, which is a media production company based in England and France, is living with both celiac and Crohn’s disease. Not only does she have celiac, but she has two obstacles to navigate through with her busy schedule. Monika travels a lot for her work and has learned to ask for gluten free foods in several languages. I was lucky to have the chance to speak with her about living gluten free, and she shares her top three to-go snacks and in which country you get the best cinnamon buns.

How long ago were you diagnosed with celiac and Crohn's, what led you to get tested?
I was diagnosed with Chron's at the age of 24. About ten years later I started getting a different kind of belly ache, but still thought it was caused by the Chron's. I was not on any regular medication of any kind and I continued eating my normal healthy diet, which included wheat products. One day over lunch a TV producer colleague told me about her food allergies and she described the symptoms of celiac. 'This sounds familiar', I thought, so I went to the doctor for a blood test and soon discovered that I was also celiac.

What foods other than gluten, must you avoid?
In order to keep off medication, I've gradually, over the years learned which foods make me feel healthy and what to stay away from. This includes alcohol, greasy deep fried foods, processed foods, anything with ingredient lists and additives a mile long, anything with MSG (monosodium glutamate), artificial sugar replacements such as aspartame, and spicy foods. At times I don't cope very well with raw salads and milk products but most of the time it's okay.

Did you find all of this to be an obstacle to your busy lifestyle and career?
Yes! But after a while you learn what's good for you and if eating the right things makes you feel better than it's worth the extra effort.

How did you handle the early months after your diagnosis and the restrictions of your new diet, especially when working away on film sets?
It was hard at first to recognize all the food products that do contain gluten. It took me a while to learn that soy sauce has wheat in it, for instance.

Were/are you 100% compliant with the gluten-free diet? Are you very sensitive if you come in contact with gluten?
I know a few times when I've been feeling really awful and asking myself 'why now, did I eat something that's triggered this?' So I go back and read the small print on the packaging and usually find that there's some barley or wheat in the product. I may well be able to handle a bit of gluten on occasion, but I'm not going to eat a baguette just to check if I'm going to be sick or not. The pain is not worth it.

How do you handle your diet when travelling, or where you live in the French countryside, especially when there is a language barrier?
My French is not great, but one thing I learned quickly was to ask 'do you have anything without gluten please?' Which, unfortunately, they don't most of the time. Most supermarkets in the part of Normandy, where I live, offer rice cakes and sometimes gluten free cornflakes. Health food shops are better, they have a decent variety of gluten free products.

What about in England?
It's getting better and better all the time in the UK. Most supermarket chains, such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's have big gluten free sections that are clearly marked and offer a good choice of products. My favourite range is Tesco's Free From range, their gluten free pasta is very tasty and so are their gluten free bagels and pita breads. These chains also sell the best gluten free bread, from Genius. The bread comes in white, brown and whole grain varieties, and are quite new on the market. It's the first gluten free bread I've found that is soft and does not require toasting. You can make a normal sandwich and it tastes like normal, 'gluten-full' bread!

What countries, do you feel, are the most aware of the gluten-free diet, and the easiest in which to eat?
Sweden, where I was born and brought up is the best for gluten free foods. The Swedes have a good awareness of food allergies and you find that supermarket staff, waiters and chefs in restaurants are well educated concerning food allergies. You can stay in a hotel and ask the breakfast waitress for gluten-free bread and they'll bring you a selection of breads and margarine that hasn't been in contact with knives containing breadcrumbs from bread containing gluten. It's a real treat. There are some really nice gluten free products in Sweden. Sempe makes lovely gluten free crisp breads, biscuits and pasta, and Fria make the nicest breads, my favorite is their poppy seed rolls and their Swedish style sweet cinnamon bun as well as the oat loaf.

When you are on film sets how to do handle your food restrictions and the craft services table? Do you arrange it ahead of time?
It depends. If I'm only on a particular set for a day or two I'll bring my own bread and some fruit, as back-up in case there isn't anything on the menu I can eat. If I'm on a job for a longer period of time I'll ask the caterer and they're always happy to help.

Have you found that awareness has increased since you were first diagnosed?
Yes, very much so. I think gluten intolerance is more common now than it used to be, and the awareness is getting bigger.

What reactions do you get from people when you tell them you have celiac?
It varies. Many people have no idea what celiac means, so you tell them 'it means that I have an allergy to gluten'. I've been in situations where someone has made a lovely cake and you have to turn it down and explain 'sorry, I’d love to eat it, but I can’t, I'm allergic to gluten' and they say 'but you can have a small slice, can't you?' and they look so disappointed, and then you feel really guilty. Those situations are awkward, but I then try to make a joke of it 'all the more cake for everyone else', kind of thing. I've also been in situations were someone reacts as if I've been struck with a nasty terminal disease, and do a sympathetic tilt of the head, nodding in concern and saying 'I'm so, so sorry to hear about your tragedy, I hope you get better soon'. It's unfortunate that an intolerance like celiac doesn't just go away, but it's possible to learn to live with it. It’s not life threatening, and with an increasing awareness living a life without gluten gets easier and easier every day.

What are some "go-to" snacks that you carry with you when you are on set or just out and about?
A banana, bottle of still water and a homemade gluten free sandwich, made with Genius bread and cheddar cheese.

To read more of my interviews with fascinating people living gluten-free, go here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Roasted acorn squash risotto with sage and a side of Muse!

Being that risotto is my ultimate comfort food, I could make it every night of the week, but then I would really have a weight problem, so I try to treat myself to it a couple of times a month. And being that I saw the most amazing show last night, Muse, I couldn't stop listening to them. This was the first show I have seen in a large venue (United Center, Chicago) in ages.

I tend to go for the smaller gigs...Empty Bottle, Double Door, Schuba's....but I could not pass up the opportunity to see Muse. I have wanted to see them live for a long time, and when I was supposed to see them play with the Cure and Interpol in 2004, they cancelled the day-of due to illness or injury (I cant remember which). Muse played yesterday, the day after Z turned 5, so we thought it would be fun to take her. She has been to over 30 gigs, but mostly outdoors, so this was her first big indoor show. We went equipped with her ear protectors and watched the amazingly produced show from the seventh row. I felt like I was back in high school watching U2 during the Joshua Tree tour, it was exciting, intense and energetic. Z danced until the very end when they left the stage and the venue lights came on. It is so great to share that experience with our daughter.

So back to the food...

The acorn squash and sage made the house smell like autumn cooking, which is appropriate with the dreary, damp weather we are having.

For this recipe, I first roasted an acorn squash, and then chopped it up to use below. First I cut the acorn squash in half and then in quarters, removed the seeds and laid the pieces, flesh side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. I sprinkled with some fresh-ground salt, pepper and olive oil, and baked at 350' for about 30 min, or until tender.

1 acorn squash, roasted, peeled, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces, see above
5 1/2 cups stock or broth (I use Celifibr bouillon cubes)
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
5 teaspoons freshly chopped sage, divided
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup parmesan cheese

freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the broth in a saucepan, and keep at a simmer.

Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan or dutch oven, or my favorite risotto pot, melt the butter over low-medium heat, add the onion and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the squash and 4 teaspoons of the sage and continue to saute for 2 more minutes.

Add the rice and stir until white spots appear in the center of the grain, about one minute. Add the wine and stir until absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Using a ladle, add a ladleful of broth and stir while maintaining a simmer, until absorbed, and continue to add ladlefuls one at a time until the rice is al dente and the mixture is creamy, about 25 minutes.

Stir in the parmesan, remaining 1 teaspoon of sage and fresh ground pepper. Mix well.

Serve immediately, in shallow bowls.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The red lentil saga continues

This is a follow-up to this post.

Bob's Red Mill said they would send me a replacement package of red lentils to replace my barley infused one. I was hoping that the package I had was a fluke, and I could start using their red lentils regularly once again. But guess what? The new package of red lentils..without even opening it, I could see barley in it! Argh!

So, while I am a huge fan of Bob's Red Mill products, especially their products labeled gluten-free, I have given up on their red lentils for now. Instead, I went to the store and bought red lentils from Arrowhead Mills, which have them listed as gluten-free on their web site.

Such a disappointment.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Interview with Joseph Pace, owner of gluten-free friendly Risotteria in New York City

Not long ago, I realized that one of my very favorite all-time restaurants is actually known for being gluten-free! I never realized this before since I just loved going there, because they serve my ultimate comfort food, risotto. That was what mattered to me. If there was only one meal I could eat for the rest of my life, it would risotto, and Risotteria in New York City has always been a stop whenever I am in town. Risotteria opened in early 1999, and has been a popular stop for gluten-free diners and fans of good food alike, for over a decade.

In addition to risotto, Risotteria also serves gluten-free pizza, salad, panini, breadsticks and pasta. Pasta is served on Tuesdays. As their web site states they are gluten-free every hour or every day. To top off this already impressive list, Risotteria has mastered the art of baking gluten-free treats.

I had the pleasure of being able to try my all-time favorite, a real New York black and white cookie, a linzer cookie, a brownie, a winkie, which is like a gluten-free version of a Twinkie, an orio, which is like a gluten-free cakey version of an Oreo cookie, and chocolate chip cookies, which I baked from a mix. I was blown away. Each of these items tasted amazing, and even better than their gluten-filled counterparts. The black and white cookie tasted just like a proper black and white cookies should taste, with a perfect cakey texture and frosting. The linzer was another favorite, but it is really difficult to choose one over another, because they were all absolutely delicious, and this is even after 2 days shipping. The chocolate chip cookie mix made amazing, fluffy chocolate chip cookies and held together perfectly. These cookies did not last long in our house.

Risotteria has recently introduced new gluten-free hamburger/sandwich rolls and ciabatta bread. Best of all, you can wash it all down with a gluten-free beer.

Most of their items, pre-made and mixes and available by mail order throughout the continental US.
Joseph Pace is the genius behind this wonderful restaurant, and I was lucky enough to be able to ask him some questions about Risotteria and his commitment to the gluten-free community.

Q - What is your background?

A - 35 years involved in food from cleaning up a butcher shop at 15-years old to being a chef at Petrossian’s flagship restaurant in NYC. I spent six years training at the 4-star level in NYC as well as stages in Europe and Asia.

Q - Where were you before Risotteria?

A - I spent several years as chef/partner in two modern cuisine destination restaurants in NYC.

Q - What was behind your idea to open a restaurant centered on risotto?

A - I was in Milan back in the early-90s and witnessed an odd phenomenon, after the clubs let out, little stalls would open up serving risotto to the club kids. Kind of like a diner at 4am in NYC, the kids are tanked and risotto absorbs the booze in your belly. The stalls only made one type of risotto and when it was gone they would start another. So I thought this would be great in NYC, but one type would never fly in this city, so I started working on a way to quickly produce high quality risotti of many varieties. Of course I was still working as a chef, so nightly I would feature a risotto and started working the kinks out. After about four years I had it.

Q - How long after you opened Risotteria did you decide to bring gluten-free options to your restaurant?

A - We originally would open at 7pm and stay till 5am, refer back to Milan’s club kids. That lasted a month until I was worn out, apparently I had aged past the 1am mark. So we began regular hours, it wasn’t more than six months before I began hearing from customers that they are here for the rice because its gluten-free, could I make a dessert so their meals would be complete. Well gluten-free had no meaning to me and it was only a few requests so it went unheeded.

Long story short, I got a call from Bette Hagman who was then the president of the GF chapter of NYC asking if I knew about celiac and gluten. My response was that a few people had mentioned it but I’m totally in the dark, she asked if I would be NYC's first restaurant to be gluten-free. My response was "as long as it doesn’t take more than a half hour I’m in." As you could imagine I was kind of beat up from four years planning the menu and designing the floor plan, while working as a full time chef. Four months construction, the original hours and the overwhelming response we got from the press and the public our first few months. I was swamped! Well this started the most extensive research and product development I had ever done. Within our first year we had gluten-free cookies and pizza, the next nine years have seen products from Italian breads, layer cakes, twinkies, hamburger rolls, slice and bake cookies, cupcakes all freshly baked as well as frozen goods i.e. pizzas, eggplant parmesan, microwaveable risotti, sauces, soups and dry mixes, kind of the gluten-free Betty Crocker type stuff...etc. etc. All gluten-free. The item we were most famous for, our breadsticks, that took a little bit of time too. Some six months and hundreds of pounds of trial and error flour blending, dough mixing, three tabletop Kitchen Aid machines and one Hobart floor mixer that we outgrew in a month, which was good timing as the motor was fried from our abuse.

Q - Are you gluten-free yourself, or do you have celiac in your family?

A - No, it’s all customer-driven, we have comment cards and I read them all. Some of these ideas came directly from customer’s lips or via our comment cards. The rest I come up with.

Q - I’m sure people must be so grateful for your gift to the gluten-free community, what reaction do you usually get from people who visit your restaurant?

A - I had a grown man, a Wall Street type, cry when he tasted our pizza, it had been so long since he had a slice and a beer, he was moved to tears.

Q - Have you always made your own flours and baked goods from scratch?

A - Yes, everything. It’s my background, 4-star training, we do it all.

Q - How long did it take you to come up with flour blend with results that you were happy with?

A - We’re still working on reformulating our flours, as I type this we’re proofing a new dough, an improvement on our focaccia bread. Quality is dynamic and must be evaluated daily. We can always do better.

Our latest item in December was a linzer cookie; in 2009 we probably introduced eight new desserts, fudges, oreos, banana bread, marble pound cake, and black and white cookies. We do cream-filled sponge cakes like our own winkie...wink wink…twinkie-like.

Our latest will be a burger bun to mimic the hard rolls of days past. A NYC staple, a crunchy Italian bread roll suitable for burgers, egg on a roll, buttered rolls -- we ate these for breakfast when I was in high school. Of course in modern times eating 1/4 pound of butter on a roll is frowned upon.

(Since our conversation, the new ciabatta bread and sandwich rolls have been introduced, which Joseph claims are his best work to date.)

Q - Do you sell to retailers, or only direct?

A - No, we can’t produce enough for us here so we mail order on a very limited basis.

Q - Do you continue to bake gluten-filled baked goods (cookies, desserts, etc…) as well?

A - Everything we bake is gluten-free; we never did make wheat flour anything in the store. Our wheat-based bread products are made off-premises at a bakery we contract.

Q - Do you keep dedicated areas in the kitchen for the gluten-free items? For storing the flours? Do you cook the pizzas in separate areas in the oven?

A - Separate everything, equipment from ovens to hand tools, the non-gluten-free stuff is the minority so it’s kept secluded. We have never had loose wheat flour in the place, so even in the beginning there was no airborne wheat dust.

Q - How do you educate the staff on gluten-free eating and the dangers of cross-contamination?

A - It’s an on-going task, our training book, testing and weekly meetings. All my cooks have been with me since the onset so they’re 100% aware, hell they have been part of the process just like I have. The waitstaff changes as is their nature and are schooled before they are let loose on the public.

Q - Do you still love risotto, or do you ever get tired of it?

A - Personally I go in cycles generally eating a lot of whatever we are working on for evaluation, but I’m good for a least 4-5 bowls of rice a week. I grew up eating risotto; it’s my comfort food. I’m a Pace we’re 800 strong in NYC all from two brothers who came over from Bologna in 1890.

Q - Do you have any plans to expand?

A - Sure do, stay tuned.

Risotteria is located at 270 Bleecker Street, NY, NY, from noon – 11pm, 7 days a week. 212.924.6664. You can eat in, take-out or order delivery. For mail orders visit their online cataloge.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Let's get this party started!

I am finally feeling motivated to do something about this weight gain since being gluten-free. It seems like it should have been going in the opposite direction, that I should have lost weight, but I was one of those fortunate people who lost lots of weight before diagnosis to gain it back after (note the sarcasm). I guess I have just been going crazy baking and trying to prove gluten-free foods are just as good, if not better than gluten-filled foods.

I joined a gym. Something I have not done in 5 years! The last time I was at the gym I was 8 months pregnant and probably in better shape than I am now. But I am so sick of this, and ready to get working on myself, to not only feel better, but to also hopefully get in great shape so I can get pregnant all over again, and go into it being the best I can be.

I started out doing zumba a few weeks ago, which I am doing 2 times week and am totally in love with, in addition to walking 5 miles 3-4 mornings a week. The cardio is great, but I am really wanting to tone my arms, back, legs, shall I continue?? So, I gave in and joined Anytime Fitness, which is where I take zumba class. I must say, looking out onto Lake Michigan sure makes working out a bit easier, it makes a great backdrop. It is nice that I have the ability to work out at 3am if that I what I am craving, but I highly doubt that will ever happen. I am way too paranoid for that nonsense.

I am trying to be realistic, and using my little sister's wedding, in October, as my goal, I just want to look good in my bridesmaid dress, and not look like a chunky monkey compared to all of the other beautiful girls in the wedding.

And if after that time we decide to TTC (trying to conceive) then all the better. That is whole other topic, but the short version is this....we have a wonderful daughter, who will be 5 next week, and I would absolutely love to have another, especially now with her going into kindergarden, and me craving to have a tiny baby again. Oh, and her constant asking for a baby sister doesn't help either. However, at the very end of my pregnancy I developed severe pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. It definitely deserves a post of its own, but let's just say that is the reason she is currently an only child, because I am terrified to put her mom's life at risk to go through pregnancy again.

Why can't having another baby be as easy as finding a pregnant high school student like in Juno? But, sadly, it is not that easy. I even joked with my friend yesterday that I needed to start hanging out where all the knocked-up teenagers hang out who want to give up their babies. I know we could give a baby a great home, it is just the getting one that I can't get my head around.

But what's most important to is to be as healthy as I can be for my family. I am determined to take an active role in making that happen..because hey, I wanna be a MILF!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

86 the gluten and then some!

I have heard that once you cut gluten out of your diet you may then encounter other food intolerances. Silly me thought that it would never to me, I can eat anything. But then I never thought I had a problem with gluten either, until I had a blood test and biopsy tell me so.

I remember reading some people will have issues with dairy in the beginning, because our intestines are finally absorbing stuff they haven't been able to absorb properly in so long. And I remember those first few weeks where I felt worse than ever, and yep....ice cream and milk did not do me good. Thankfully, after those first few weeks, I was good to go and dairy seems to be my friend now (knock on wood).

However, oddly I have noticed I can no longer eat raw bananas, celery, quinoa and sometimes eggs. Those things seem so innocent yet cause so much pain. I used to eat a banana a day, it is such a great snack to carry in your purse, but now it will actually make me feel worse than if I had gluten and it lasts for hours. I can eat them cooked in banana bread just fine, but raw...keep them away from me! I made my daughter a banana smoothie this morning and wouldn't even use the blender to make one for me afterward until it was thoroughly cleaned, I am so paranoid of raw banana pain. Such a shame...I miss you raw banana!!

The same with celery...in soups or other cooked items, no problem, but raw...ouch! It took me several months to figure this one out, but finally I am sure. I would always put celery in tuna salad or another other salad sandwich, and afterwards...stomach ache...I would think..maybe it is the tuna...maybe there was gluten in it, maybe the crackers I ate with it...but finally it would still happen no matter what cracker, bread or tuna I used. So, finally I made it without celery and viola...no stomach ache. 3 times in a row and felt great. I definitely miss the crunch celery added, but not the pain. Bye bye raw celery.

Another one is quinoa. I used to love it! Pre-gluten-free, I made it all the time, and craved it. I added it to soups as a thickener and loved it in salads or a rice replacement. And I am always extremely careful in washing it thoroughly before cooking. The last few times, it is about as painful as bananas, just horrible that goes on for hours. I tried testing it one last time, and made myself just a 1/4-cup plain....and ouch...horrible. This is really unfortunate, because it is such a great grain, especially since I am limited to what whole grains I can eat, and this is a no-go for me. I am terrified to test it again. I am actually surprised I do ok with (gluten-free) oats.

Lastly, one that gets me sometimes with no rhyme or reason is eggs. In baked goods, never an issue - thankfully, but any egg breakfast dish, I never know. And this one is sneaky....the pain from eggs won't hit me until like 3 hours after the meal, where the other ones will effect me within 10 minutes. I try to limit how much eggs I have for breakfast, but it is 50/50..I wish I knew how to make sure it didn't happen at all.

I hope this is the end of it and I don't discover more.

Anyone else have issues with these foods or others?

Monday, March 1, 2010

GFIW: Patak's, March 1

One of my favorite cuisines is Indian. Except when I was pregnant, then I couldn't even stand the smell...but all other times, I could eat it daily! And since we can't afford to eat out all the time, nor would I want to, I like making Indian at home. It is super quick, super yummy, and you can add pretty much anything you have hanging in the kitchen.

I have tried many Indian sauces and my favorite is definitely Patak's. They are a UK-based company and all of their sauces, chutneys, relishes, pastes and pappadums are gluten-free. You can see the proof right here.

Weekly, I make an Indian dinner, which is usually made the tikka masala or jalfrezi sauce, with cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, sauteed tofu and peas and serve it on steamed brown rice. Yum!

I also like using the sweet mango chutney, for example in my curried un-chicken salad.

Most of their packaging does say "gluten-free" on the back, but some of the smaller jars don't such as the chutney, but they are 100% gluten-free.