Thursday, June 24, 2010

Culinary Adventures in the City

Last week I was visiting some friends back in New York City and had to rely on restaurants for food. Typically when I'm living in New York I buy all of my groceries so that I can cook, know everything I am eating, and can be pretty economic about it, but this time that wasn't as much of an option as I was staying with a friend for only a couple of days.
While on the bus to New York I decided to try and check out some places that were gluten and dairy free so that I would have some good options, knowing that my friends wold entertain and participate in my culinary adventure.
The most interesting find for me was going to the very popular restaurant S'mac. This place has all different kinds of build-your-own mac 'n' cheese, so when I heard that it had gluten AND dairy free options, I was floored. Although it's (understandably) a little more expensive to order the gluten free pasta and the dairy free cheese (mine was around $10), I was still able to enjoy mac 'n' cheese with chicken, broccoli, and mushrooms. I felt like I was having a chicken alfredo dish again!! For people who are extremely sensitive to gluten though, I would be a little wary. The website does provide a disclaimer that they can't completely guarantee that all the ingredients are separate and not contaminated of one another, and I did feel a little sick afterwards. It could be the imitation cheese, or the portion size, but I am always a little skeptical when it tastes so close to the real thing and then I my belly feels a little too full afterwards.
Laster that night my friends and I went to Stogo for dessert. Stogo is located on 10th street between 2nd and 3rd avenue and is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!!! I seriously recommend it to anyone and everyone with or without a dairy allergy. All of the ice cream is gluten and diary free, some made with a soy base, and others with a coconut milk base. I ordered peanut butter chocolate fudge (which was really great!), one of my friends ordered chocolate chip cookie dough (I can't believe it was gluten free), and my other friend ordered almond joy, which was made with the coconut milk to make it taste like a real almond joy. The employees were SOOOOOO helpful and knew everything about their product. Even though the ice cream was a little more expensive, I am definitely going to make a repeat trip there.
These two new discoveries were definitely well worth the trip to NYC. It is always important though to double check and make sure that the employees know what they're serving you. Maybe that "dairy-free cheese" had some gluten in it which made me feel sick? Maybe it was my imagination?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Finding Food at the Market

Grocery shopping was, at least initially, a huge struggle for me. Every single thing I bought or wanted to buy required that I read all the ingredients. I am continually frustrated by the fact that, although packaged foods are required to highlight their allergen information, they oftentimes do not explicitly state that they contain wheat or gluten or dairy. Therefore, I have to read every ingredient and try to decipher the "questionable food items" for myself.

After many grocery store visits looking like I had some sort of eating disorder for reading every ingredient on every food, and then reluctantly returning it to the shelf, I have finally come to realize that eating the whole foods is what's really best for not only me, but anyone trying to eat healthier. Surprisingly, it is not any more expensive, but it is infinitely more healthy.

In a typical trip to the grocery store, I usually seek out the least expensive, whole food vegetables first, and then build my meals from there. First, I oftentimes buy bananas, which arguably give you the most "bang for your buck." I like to think of bananas as nature's candy bar because they have their own wrapper, are easy to transport, and will fill you up pretty well after eating just one. I also really love to buy frozen fruits and vegetables. Living on my own and buying fresh produce is tough because it can go bad so quickly, frozen vegetables and fruit, however, are actually arguably better for you (because they pick the produce at it's peak and then freeze it, so it has more nutrients) and it will last for months. Some of my favorites are frozen corn, spinach, berries, and mangoes. Just be sure that you buy the frozen items that don't have any added sugar or sodium. They usually will advertise that fact right on the package, but you can also look at the ingredients where it will list anything in addition to the vegetable or fruit.

Beyond that, canned food is actually pretty good too. While you should watch out for sodium, most of the naturally canned products that are gluten and diary free are not too bad for you, and will similarly keep longer. Moreover, they are way less expensive than fresh produce. My favorite dinner recipe I find in canned food items.

"Canned" Mild Chile
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 c. Onions, chopped
- 1 c. Celery, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped (optional)
- 2 12 oz cans of ground chicken, packaged in water (always double check the ingredients to avoid gluten-containing preservatives!)
- 1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
- 1 15 oz. can of kidney beans
- 2 tbsp. chile powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder

Saute the onions, celery, and peppers in the oil for about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and continue to saute the mix for about 2 more minutes. Then add in the tomato sauce, chile powder, and garlic powder. Mix everything pretty well, and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Add in the kidney beans, and continue to simmer for about 20 more minutes.
The total cost of this recipe (which usually makes about 10 servings) is roughly $12. Thats $1.20 per serving!
My favorite way to eat this chile is to bake a sweet potato in the microwave for about 7 minutes, cut it in half and serve the chile over it. It is ABSOLUTELY delicious!

Even though grocery shopping can be a challenge, and may initially take longer to find all the "good" items, at a certain point you;ll be able to sweep through your local grocery store, swiftly picking up all the necessary items that will keep you going with delicious variety and freshness!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Snacks Galore!

Another challenge I've faced is finding snack foods that I can easily eat. It's really easy to depend on processed granola bars, cereals, chips, and cookies when living a gluten-filled life. Beyond that, any health article lately will tell you how great dairy products are for you, and express the benefit of eating yogurt. Well, being dairy free, I can't eat that either. So I had to get a little creative when it came to snack making. Over the course of the past year I've found a couple of trusty snacks that work really well, especially for when I would have to run out the door, are new and fun to try. The first snack that became something I quickly made every week was baked chickpeas. Not only are they easy to put together, they are extremely inexpensive (89 cents for a can!), very nutritious with tons of fiber and protein, which will make you feel fuller longer, and they are easy to transport!

Baked Chick Peas (Garbanzo Beans)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain one can of garbanzo beans and rinse, as needed. Then spread them evenly on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for about 15 or 20 minutes, then flip them over, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until to desired crunchiness. You can also spray off or grease the sheet before putting the beans on, but it is not necessary. Then you can just throw some salt on them and enjoy! You should store them in the fridge and they usually keep 7-10 days.
Another great discovery was that you can make pretty much any kind of bean this way (I also LOVE baked kidney beans), and it makes a really great and easy snack!

I was recently further experimented with the brilliance of baking in the oven to make healthy things taste even more appealing. Just yesterday I decided to explore what baked spinach would taste like.
What I did:
1. Preheat oven to about 375 or 400 degrees
2. Spray off baking sheet with cooking spray.
3. Spread spinach over surface of baking sheet.
4. Spray top of spinach as well.
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes. The spinach should start to get crispy. I was a bit worried about my experiment but it actually ended up turning out great! They were really delicious and obviously nutritious (I keep reading about how important spinach is to eat all the time, so why not bake some up and snack on it!)

Another mini-meal/snack I would bring to classes last spring was a little combo I made up when I was trying to eat more flaxseed meal. It actually would end up being absolutely delicious, and unlike anything I'd ever had before. Like I've previously expressed, I firmly believe that Peanut Butter can make anything better, so of course there is an obligatory addition of peanut, or any other type of nut butter.

New Twist to Apples 'n' Peanut Butter
- 2 tablespoons of flaxseed meal
- about 1/4 cup of almond/soy/rice milk, to cover the flaxseed meal for it to be absorbed
- 1 small diced apple
- 1 big teaspoon of peanut butter
Mix all ingredients together, and you can either enjoy it immediately or let it sit for a while so that all of the milk is absorbed and it's really delicious! This has definitely become one of my go-to snacks when I want just a little something extra. it's a really great combination of carb, protein, and fat, so nutritiously it's a pretty good choice as well!

Beyond these snacks I have also made some important discoveries over the past year. For example, most potato chips and tortilla chips are gluten and dairy free (!), but I would recommend always double checking the label, you never know what they'll throw in there.. The chips discovery was BIG, because it meant that if I ever went to a party or other social gathering, I didn't have to wear the suit of armor and giant sign that said, "sorry, I can't eat anything because I have to obsessively check ingredients, and am allergic to all tasty, processed foods."
Another huge discovery was how great nuts and dried fruit are. I have become OBSESSED with sugar-free dried mango. I also have been known to make my own trail mix of cranberries, raisins, chocolate chips (..:) ), cashews, and almonds.

You almost have to convince yourself of how much healthier your snacks are for you. So we can't have granola bars, but we can still have so many things like fresh fruit and vegetables (with hummus!), nuts, dried fruit, beans, peanut butter (!) The possibilities can be endless, it just requires some creativity at times.

Friday, June 4, 2010

It's not like I ate bread.

So I'll be the first to admit, eating gluten and dairy free all the time is extremely difficult. Beyond the blatant temptations of pizza, pasta, cookies, ice cream (brownie sundaes...), etc., there are the hidden pitfalls associated with various seasoning, spicing, and food coloring. A lot of experts in the gluten and dairy field refer to these as "questionable food items" that should be avoided by all people with celiac's disease. Now I will oftentimes think that I am invincible to these items. "I'm not eating bread and milk," is my common defense. But my body doesn't subscribe to my brain's reasoning.

For example, yesterday my mom was making barbecue chicken. She had me read the ingredients on the back of the barbecue sauce bottle, and despite seeing some of these questionable words, like carmel food coloring, I assured her (and myself) that it would be fine, I wouldn't have any problems, and could eat the chicken. Much to my body's dismay, I was wrong. My major symptom inflicted itself upon me within an hour and the rest of the night went downhill from there. I am still paying for it today. Just because of a little food coloring.

My suggestions to all of you out there is to make your own marinade. While it may take more time, it will not only be better for you, but it will also (probably) taste better. My favorite marinades bring together some combination of lemon, olive oil, onions, and garlic. All of the juices end up working so well together that your chicken, fish, tofu, or steak is bound to be delicious (and gluten and dairy free). I'll post more marinade recipes as I discover/make them up!

If you're unsure about some questionable food items, ingredient phrasing, or other mystery items my two suggestions are to either not eat them (you probably shouldn't ingest anything that you can't pronounce...) or check out this website. It's definitely helped me know what I can and can't eat (sometimes much to my dismay, as with the caramel food coloring :( )

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Now...What's for Dessert?

Sorry it's been so long since my last post! My life has been crazy transitioning into summer mode (which seems a bit counterintuitive...)

Anyway, today I was DESPERATE for some sweets. Before I was forced into a gluten and dairy free life, chocolate was DEFINITELY my go-to dessert item. Anything chocolate was (and still is) absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, lots of chocolate (even the dark kinds) have milk fat. While an interesting obstacle, early in my diagnosis I was willing to face the challenge to find inexpensive and delectable dairy-free chocolate. Month two of my gfcf life, mission accomplished.
Trader Joe's sells semi-sweet chocolate chips that only contain soy, no milk. This chocolate, along with their natural peanut butter has been my vice throughout this past year. I go straight into the jar and it's like an instant reese's.
It took a lot of research on my part to find some safe treats, but I have been successful. Junior Mints are (surprisingly) gluten and dairy free, so are most jelly beans, skittles (!), jolly ranchers, and starbursts.

Earlier this year, however, I went on a healthy food kick. Upon learning about the damage gluten and dairy can do to my body, I started thinking about ALL the food I was ingesting. This created a bit of an obstacle to my sweet tooth. Cocoa powder was okay, and combined with honey or agave nectar tasted sweeter, but what I was REALLY missing was ice cream. That's when I discovered the BEST dessert:

Banana Nut "Ice Cream":
In a blender put together
- 1 frozen banana (I usually slice a banana when it's at it's prime ripeness, put it in a zip lock bag, and freeze it)
- 1 tsp of peanut or almond butter
- just a little almond (or soy or rice) milk to get the blender moving
Blend all the ingredients and it comes out like ice cream!!! It's so good! I've also experimented by adding a little coconut or cocoa powder, depending on my mood.
I made one today but unfortunately had no frozen bananas, so I tried to make it with a room temperature banana and ice, but the result was more of a smoothie (still good, but not ice cream :( )

Another great sugar free, gluten free, and dairy free dessert recipe was given to me by one of my friends. I believe they are considered "Brownie Balls," and they are also absolutely delicious!

Brownie Balls:
- 1 c. roasted almonds (or you can use almond meal, which can be found at trader joes)
- 15 pitted dates (depends on the size though, if they're small, probably more)
- 2/3 c. cocoa powder
- 1 T honey
- 2 T water
Grind almonds in food processor. Add dates, cocoa powder, honey, and water. Mix until it forms a "sticky mass" Roll into balls, or form into bars, whichever seems more appealing, and either enjoy now, or keep them in the fridge or freezer so they'll stay delicious!

The last treat may be my favorite. It's good because you can eat it for a dessert kind of thing, snack, or I've even had it for breakfast...

Rice Cake "Cakes"
- 1 Rice Cake
- 1 tbsp of peanut butter (like I said, peanut butter on anything makes everything better...)
- drizzle of honey
- handful of raisins or cranberries (or chocolate chips...)
First, spread the rice cake with peanut butter, then drizzle on honey (I've found that making a star puts exactly the right amount of honey on... :) ) Then sprinkle on the raisins/cranberries/chocolate chips. and ENJOY! It's so delicious that I always end up having more than one...

In a gluten and dairy free world it's IMPERATIVE to find some good treats that don't rely on specialty gluten free labels. I'm glad I've found "brownies," "ice cream," and "cake" to satisfy my sweet tooth and chocolate cravings!!