Friday, June 6, 2014

kitchen essentials

It is that time of year again, moving season. If you are just graduating and heading out on your own, or dealing with having to shuffle your life into boxes again, setting up a kitchen can be daunting. It also can be a money pit. After tackling 14 home kitchens I have whittled down my must-haves significantly. (cough, if you have moved it 2x and not used it, you don't need it, cough.)

Items in bold are my must haves, things that I think a kitchen needs to function. Items that follow, in regular text, are the things I really like and are great add-ons. At the end I tacked on my must-haves for baking, a special category for keeping a gluten-free kitchen, and one more if you are lucky enough to have an outdoor grill.

Fire extinguisher - this is not negotiable. You should not be allowed to inhabit a kitchen without at least 1. This is not up for discussion. It is worth every penny and could save your life, along with most of your earthly possessions, but don't do without the thing that could save your life. You must get one, better yet two. Fire extinguishers are rated with a letter system. It is worth making sure the type you are getting will meet your needs. There are kitchen-rated fire extinguishers, they are often white instead of red, which should be used in kitchen fires only. If you have an outdoor grill, you need a more broadly rated fire extinguisher and yes it must be in addition to the one in your kitchen.

Knives are the most important investment you have. Keep the sharp, never put them in the dishwasher, and they will last for at least your lifetime. I really like Wusthof, but the most important thing is that the knife fits in your hand. I can get away with a shallower handle, but anyone with larger hands would experience some unpleasant knuckle bashing if they tried to use my favorite knife. You need to test out your knives before you buy. If a place is being weird about letting you try out their wears, go somewhere else.
chef's knife
pairing knife
bread knife
sharpening stone and honing steel 
boning knife - if you cook a lot of meat or have pissed off your butcher
kitchen sheers
2 cutting boards (one for meat, one for everything else)

Stuff you throw in a drawer or keep in a tall container on your counter:
vegetable peeler (Kitchenaid euro style is my all time favorite)
rubber scraper/spatula (2 if you like baking)
wooden spoon
slotted spoon (essential if you are keen on poaching things)
wire whip/whisk
spring-loaded tongs
spatula 
ladle
colander (I really like the ones that fit on the edges of the sink)
meat thermometer or digital probe thermometer (if you are new to cooking meat, this is a must)
spatter guard (if you do any frying, this gets bumped up to the need list)
basting brush (I think the silicone ones are awesome)
chopsticks (they are great for whisking, stirring, and the bamboo kind are great for flipping hot things in pans)

I am going to get some gruff here, but when it comes to cooking vessels I really think you only need:
cast iron skillet 
stock/pasta pot (thick bottom, solid handle construction)
sauce pot
2 jelly roll pans (I like them so much more than baking sheets and use them to roast veggies as much as I do baking)
pressure cooker - I am a convert and use this at least once a week so its on my must list
saute pan - really useful but you can get away with the cast iron for most. It is a must if you cannot live without omelets
dutch oven or crock pot
mixing bowl (you need one, but 2 is really nice. You can skip if you have a stand mixer and space issues.)
vegetable steamer (some can't live with out this ufo-shaped do-dad, I am on the fence)

Almost all food looks better contrasted against white. Get yourself some boring service wear; save your money for other things. A set of four is the bare minimum you need unless you are a hermit.
4 soup/salad bowls
4 small plates
4 large plates
4 forks
4 spoons
4 dinner knives
4 steak knives (nice but you can get away with not serving t-bones and live a great life)
4 wine glasses (you can upgrade to the wine-specific glasses later)
4 water/cocktail glasses
2-4 coffee mugs (don't pay more than $1, thrift stores have more of these and pro-Ts than you could ever imagine)
1-2 large serving bowls (salad, chips, or when you have graduated from serving pasta out of a pot)
1 serving platter
4 small snack bowls (olives, dip, candy)

Things to hold things
You need to accept that you are going to have grain moths and/or mice who will constantly want to eat your food. The best defense is defense. I like glass, specifically Ball jars, when I have eye-level or lower storage. If things are going above my head, I switch to plastic. So you need to get yourself some containers to put flours, beans, rice, and other open dry goods in that will keep beasts out.

Gadgets
step stool (Don't think your tip-toes are going to cut it. Be safe especially with heavy things that can dent your noggin or crush your toe.)
something to make coffee with (drip machine, french press, stove percolator)
tea pot or electric kettle
can opener (Swingline is the best)
wine opener/corkscrew with bottle opener
funnel (I am a fan of the collapsible kind that will fit in a drawer)
toaster oven
2 ice cube trays
kitchen side towels (4 minimum)
box grater 
microplane (I love mine more than the box grater...)
blender or stick blender
vitamix or blendtec (these are the faster, stronger, intense-youtube-video fodder mixers that are worth the money but they should be an upgrade not a first purchase)
food processor
plastic squeeze bottles for oil
microwave

Baking, in general
kitchen scale
parchment paper
silpat (these are great and basically a sturdier version of parchment paper that is reusable)
hand mixer
stand mixer (get the 5 quart because it has the adjustable arm, worth it)
disher (the best way to portion out muffins, cupcakes for even baking)
2-cup liquid measuring cup 
4-cup liquid measuring cup (it is nice, I use mine all the time, but it does take up more space)
set of dry measuring cups
set of dry measuring spoons
casserole dish/baking dish (the kind for brownies et al)
2 muffin tins (standard size)
toothpicks (for checking doneness)
pie dish
loaf pan
cake pans
tart shell pan
angel food pan
2 mini muffin tins (you will know when you need these and you will have to push through an awkward phase of wanting to make everything in 2-bite chunks)
blowtorch (if you are an avid baker you will reach the point of wanting to crème brûlée something)

Baking, gluten free essentials
off-set spatula (Of cake decorating fame. They are key for spreading gf pizza dough.)
kitchen scale (yes I put this twice, but you really need it!)
cupcake liners

If you have an outdoor grill
fire extinguisher
long spring-loaded tongs 
long wooden handle spatula 
grill scraper (essential if you are doing a lot of grilling. You need to slough off the built-up food on the grates so they don't ignite)

This list is by no means exhaustive and you will need to tailor it to your space and needs. If you make baby food, a food mill or food processor might shoot up to the top of the list.

So tell me friends, what am I missing and what is on your dream kitchen list?

Monday, June 2, 2014

cherry almond butter cookies that will blow your socks off

I was invited to a party where the host cannot eat dairy or cane sugar. Not wanting to disappoint - and knowing the crowd was a pretty open-minded bunch of heck-yeah-I-will-try-a-new-weird-food people, I thought I would attempt a dessert. No gluten, no grains, no sugar, no butter, no problem. These cookies were a giant hit. 

I basically made a modified version of The Ambitious Kitchen's Flourless Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Chunk CookiesThey are on the cakey-side of cookies, but who cares because they taste awesome and don't have a gritty or weird texture. I am not so subtly looking at you coconut oil and rice flour cookies of sadness


Cherry Almond Butter Cookies
1 cup creamy almond butter
4 dates (pitted)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1/2 tsp kosher salt (plus more to sprinkle on top if you like)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
1/4 cup pistachios 

preheat oven to 350F 


1. In a mixer with a paddle attachment combine the almond butter, dates, maple syrup, egg, salt, baking soda, and extracts. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

2. Scrape down bowl, beat again for another minute. 
3. Stir in the cherries and pistachios
4. Spoon out 2-3tsp portions of the batter onto lined cookie sheets (parchment is your best bet here). 
5. Bake at 350F for 7-12 minutes
6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes on the cookie sheets, then you can transfer them to a cooling rack. 

These things taste so so so so good, but they will stick together if you stack them in a Tupperware - you have been warned.

Friday, May 30, 2014

forgiveness

May is Celiac awareness month and GlutenAway started a great campaign focusing on the good. In thinking about what I am thankful for, or what good has come of my diagnosis, I am more and more aware of who-got-it-wrong and the grudges I am holding on to. I can recall the name of every server and establishment who has mis-served me, companies with false/inaccurate packaging, medical professionals and friends who implied my symptoms were all in my head.

It is really hard to let go of shit like this.

I want to focus this month on forgiveness. I want to forgive myself for all the mistakes I made, and forgive others who have made mistakes that have caused pain. (I had a goal of posting this 4 weeks ago, so let's just say my goal of forgiveness is a work in progress.)

forgiving me
I think this is the hardest part, letting go of the dread and regret I have. In 2007, I waited a long time to go see a physician about my symptoms. I have been holding on to that "lost time".  11 doctors later, I still wasn't  feeling great and ugly cried in my bathroom after I found out my multivitamin I was taking--2 months after being diagnosed--was made with wheat starch. I was so angry with myself for not getting it right. (I could list a hundred of these little things where I feel I-should-have-known ___) I have been holding on to these wishes of retroactive knowledge, like somehow once we discover time travel I could go back and all of this pain baggage would be worth while.

I want to create the space to realize I have made a lot of mistakes and I have learned from them. I don't need to spend more time rethinking about these situations. I need to let go of the idea that I should have been perfect at figuring it all out, instantly. There is value in these feelings - I just don't need them all the time.

I have also been angry with myself for having honest-to-goodness normal reactions. I have been frustrated with my feelings of being left out at work functions; told myself that I should just be able to "not care" about being excluded or forgotten. I have tried to down-play my frustration with people putting crumbs in the one gluten-free item at a party, or tell myself it isn't really a big deal.

I want to be ok with feeling feelings. I want to know that they don't have to last forever, but that I don't need to dismiss feeling left out because being left out sucks. It just does. Ok see I said it, now we can move on!

forgiving others
It is really hard to forgive those who have wronged us: doctors who misdiagnosed, loved ones who belittled us, companies and restaurants who got it wrong. The closer we are to these painful events the harder it is to forgive. It is hard to acknowledge that mistakes and missteps are going to keep happening. There is power in the anger when things initially go wrong, but I am not sure I want to hold on to it anymore.

I know I have experienced a lot of medical negligence, but I don't need to hold on to being mad at the GI specialist who told me I needed to eat a fiber supplement derived from wheat. Was it bad advice? You betcha!  Yet, me being angry about it doesn't change what happened - me finding a new doctor did.

So for me, Celiac Awareness Month has been a lot of reflection on who I want to be going forward. Today I had a 25 minute phone call with a manager at a restaurant that served me gluten last week. At the end of the conversation I decided to open myself up to the option of eating there again. I am not saying I am going to go tonight, and maybe I never will, but I am feeling a lot better being open to the option than being full of hate and venom. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

it is all in your head

A few people have been asking me my thoughts on the new search study out of Australia. (And subsequent articles with inflammatory titles.) All of my responses have started with an audible sigh.

Bacteria existed before we had microscopes to see them. Just because we don't have a western medical test to "prove" someone has a disease/intolerance doesn't negate the illness, nor should it prevent her from trying an elimination diet. The media has offered a bizarre double-edge sword where people are simultaneously painted as irresponsible for not taking charge of their own health and belittled for trying alternative, non-western pharmaceutical options.

I am fine with a million more news stories clearly explaining that a gluten-free diet is not an effective tool for weight-loss. It is great if we continue to highlight that a gluten-free diet can cause nutritional deficiencies. But let's also include the fact that most of the processed gluten-containing foods are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals because they too are highly-processed and if you ate them all the ding-dang time you would have nutritional deficiencies. The difference is, instead of promoting the eating of more vegetables, food companies have added these essential vitamins and minerals into foods that normally don't contain them (or contain very little, or did contain them but where processed out).

I am also a big fan of more research; a lone study of 37 people in Australia does not conclusive make. So let's keep funding research, let's keep talking about alternatives to non-celiac gluten sensitivity/intolerance, but let's also keep these conversations grounded in the fact that there is a lot more we don't know.

When I joined celiac.com's message boards back in ye ole 2007, shampoo and face wash was a hot topic. Some people were noticing skin and digestive reactions when using products containing gluten. Others chimed in that there was no research proving one could react to gluten if it isn't ingested through the mouth and that clearly these people were: hypochondriacs, liars, attention seekers, aka "it was all in their head". This cutting hatred and dismissal of people who were in pain, or just seeking information, was part of the reason I departed. I don't see the point in negating people's experience, especially if we don't understand it. And now there are a bunch of gluten-free body-care products and growing awareness that if you slather things on your face it is pretty likely you are going to get some on your lips and in your mouth.

I think what is the most interesting out of this week of everyone-becoming-an-internet-expert-on-who-should-and-shouldn't-eat-gluten is the fact that people are breezing by the fact that the Australian study posited that people were having reactions/issue to other things: FODMAPS. So if by eliminating gluten are eliminating what is causing you discomfort/symptoms/reactions... isn't that a good thing? If a gluten-free or better yet an elimination diet is the key or gateway to figuring out what is wrong and feeling better, isn't that the goal?

So yes, more research, but until then let's be more support of those who are trying to get well and stay well rather than drawing more lines in the sand.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ce ce ce celia - a gluten free beer


I tried Celia beer a little over a year ago and really didn't like it. Maybe it was an off-batch, maybe I have grown and my tastes have changed... it doesn't much matter because it is great. It is hands-down the best gluten-free beer I have tasted.

It is actually the only gluten-free beer I have come across that actually has pronounced hops. That's right folks, this isn't a weird cloying-ly sweet beer, and it is also devoid of that strong sour finish that most sorghum-based gf beers suffer from. The texture is also the closest I have come to "real beer". For those who have read all of my beer reviews, one of my largest complaints is lack of adequate carbonation. This beer has it!

This beer is solid enough that it is the first I have served to gluten-mouths at a party... and people enjoyed and went back for seconds. The use of orange peel is genius, and while it is a little heavy for everyday, it clearly stood up to my Indian food left overs. (This is probably a horrible pairing; spicy curries go great with sweet wines and light beers, but I like to call dinnertime the time to randomly pick things out of the fridge like taste-bud roulette.)

Three cheers for a local beer company doing it right!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

who gets to go out to eat (safely)

Yesterday's food section included "With more patrons with food allergies, restaurants cater to every need". I was excited to hear about chefs taking food allergies and sensitivities seriously. I was grateful for the inclusion of a famous chef being denied service because of his son's food allergies. This is stuff we deal with all the time.

But I was still left with a bad taste in my mouth. It is clear that even with the 2009 passing of Bill S.2701, there aren't universal standards for how to "handle" food allergies in restaurant kitchens. Don't get me wrong, things are a lot better. Awareness has significantly increased. But this article points to the fact that not all of these chefs, and their kitchen and front-of-house staffs, are doing the same thing. Some are using separate preparation surfaces, some aren't.

The other elephant in this article is that only high-end restaurants were profiled. This begs the question of who can afford a safe meal? I understand the allure of profiling high-end chefs and famous restaurants. It makes sense; it drives readership; I get it. I am really excited that a chef at Clio has Celiac Disease. I wish I could check out what she is offering, but it is just not financially feasible. And I am ok with that. I am not saying the because I have Celiac Disease I should be able to eat at Clio. What I think we need to talk more about it what does it really cost to prepare a meal safely for those with food allergies/sensitivities?

Those of us saddled with the task of trying to find safe food know that you don't go out to eat to a new place for the first time on a weekend. You don't go the night of a menu change. You don't go on a Monday when most chefs have their day off. You don't go to a new place during a lunch or dinner rush. You do ask a lot of questions. You do leave if you don't feel comfortable. And you do tip very well if the staff works as a team to get it right.

These are not "tips" they are essentials for not being poisoned.

I don't think you can talk about allergy awareness without highlighting all of the invisible work* that goes into getting it right. This article talks about some of this work from the chef's side, but ignores the diners experience, except for the person who asked for a gluten-free meal and then eats a conventional dinner roll.

For a second can we please just imagine that I am going out for dinner and my friend orders a gluten-free meal with me, so we can share (because I have the most awesome friends) and she still eats from the glutenrific bread basket. There are lots of different types of food negotiations happening. Granted, there are those who are selectively choosing when and when not to eat gluten, but that doesn't mean it is ok to be dismissive. How we eat, who we eat with, and sharing food is really complicated.

It is really complicated. And it is more complicated than the Globe piece points out. Nonetheless I am grateful to hear about more places taking things more seriously and offering more options. I am still hoping for more.

*I am invoking/borrowing Marjorie Devault's ideas here because food allergies make visible so much surrounding food safety, preparation, and knowledge acquisition required to get it right. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

pistachio liqueur

I love pistachios so much that when a friend offered me a sip of Dumante, a pistachio liqueur, I nearly tackled someone as I lunged towards the cup. Sadly, I was left a little wanting. It had pistachio flavor, but it was really light and gentle. (Pistachios are the most aggressive nut, but this didn't sing to me.)

I found a recipe online for pistachio liqueur, but I wondered how it would turn out if I omitted the spices. Some further research - via misspelling liqueur "liquore", lead me to the glorious discovery that Sicilians make a "creamy" style. Recipes seem to vary between adding actual cows milk cream, or blending the pistachios down and soaking them in alcohol so it is a bit of a nut milk infused booze.

I decided to start with the dairy-free style and see if I could attempt a clear liqueur.

I purchased half a pound of unsalted in-the-shell pistachios, and then shelled them.


Then I rough-chopped them, and it yielded a scant cup of meat.


I added them to a Ball jar (yes I put nuts in a ball jar), and covered them with 750ml of vodka.


I hemmed and hawed about it, but decided I did in fact really want some beautiful vanilla to join the party. I had Madagascar and Tahitian on hand. Smelling both, the Tahitian was the clear winner since it is a much lighter, fruit-ier vanilla, and I am hopefully it will play nicely with the nuts.


Then I took a blurry picture of nuts settling with the bean.


I labeled the jar and made a pact with myself to shake it every few days and taste it after two weeks.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

searching for authentic ethnic food

I saw this comic and shouted "yes yes yes!" at the screen.

Shing Yin Khor does a beautiful job of walking the reader through her character's experience of her foodways and how other people view them. She gently and then strongly forces the other character searching for the ability to label something authentic (and the reader), to acknowledge what that means and what it erases.

Her work toes the line of showing and telling. Khor does this with grace, weaving in stories of what people perceive her to eat, want her to eat, and what she does it, and then hits you with strong declarations:

"We're a people, not a cuisine.

Do not deny us our own diversity".

I could gush on how this should be mandatory reading in every food studies, anthropology, and sociology class, and how it every "food blogger" should have to meaningfully engage with the piece and never use the words "ethnic cuisine" again... but just go read it. I promise we can have as hearty a discussion as you like in the comments section.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

gluten free alcohol - new rules

I tried Omission beer and really fell in love with it. Heck it is a gluten-removed beer, so real beer. The problem was, shortly after I was polishing a post about it, I read that the ELISA tests that Omission uses is not sensitive to be less than 20ppm accurate. I decided hold off on blogging and to email Omission directly about their testing policies. One of their reps said they would look into it and get back to me. Well that was in March of 2013... I am still waiting.

So I have chosen not to drink Omission, or Dura, or any of the other gluten-removed beers. It doesn't seem worth the risk, especially with all of the confusion. (Most of the confusion is because in the U.S. alcohol does not have to be labeled the way food does; it is actually a separate governmental agency Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, that deals with labeling, not the FDA.)

Today ATT released a revised policy on gluten in alcoholic beverages and spirits. This is huge because there are now rules about what alcoholic beverages can (and can't) be labeled gluten-free. The gluten-removed beers, they cannot use the term. I hope this helps everyone, but especially the newly diagnosed, better navigate the world of beverages.

Thanks to Gluten Free Fun for sharing the news.