Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A needle for your dinner

A clinical trial of a celiac vaccine (think allergy shot, not polio) is getting a lot of buzz. I am not holding my breath, but my fingers are crossed. I would like to see more test results, and honestly the idea of intentionally noming some gluten seems both scary and exhilarating... but this probably has several more years before anything interesting happens.

Up the research!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dam good eats - Amsterdam Falafel

I have a thing for most things deep fried. Honestly, there are few items that I would refuse once they have taken a hot bubble bath in oil. (The list is short, if it contains fenugreek, juniper, pine nuts, canned water chestnuts, forget it.)

A lot of falafel is cut with bulgar - a type of cracked wheat - which saddens me. So when I was directed to Amsterdam Falafel  in Adams Morgan, I was skeptical. I was at first stupefied by their toppings bar. There were over 5 hot sauces, and 20 or so other pickles, salads, and sauces. The staff were able to quickly recite ingredients and once the balls were deemed gf, I was off to the races. At a place that only offers falafel and french fries, you order fries.

I topped my order of 3 golden orbs with pickled beets, tahini, hot sauce, one of three of the cucumber salads, cold chickpea salad and pickles. They do not have forks, but they do offer a device that looks like a split popsicle stick - with the end sharpened into two points, great for scooping and stabbing falafel balls into falafel pops. Genius. The balls were perfectly crisp and flavorful and the toppings were great compliments, none tried to steal the show.  The fries were ok, not great, but the offerings of ketchup, Dutch mayo, and garlic cream came to their aid.  

Oh yeah, there is an "Amsterdam theme" to the small, restaurant. There are no plates, everything is served in cone-shaped paper wrappers that easily sit on the tables with 3" holes gauged out of the top. The sign dons an XXX in the logo and there are posters and images - including a painting of a topless woman that greets eaters as you walk in. If a topless woman can be subtle, this one is, I honestly didn't notice her till after I was half done my meal.

I will most certainly dine here again, and maybe scope out more of the decor.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May is Celiac Awareness Month, let's discuss

So there is a lot of chit-chat, buzz, blogging, facebook-posting and I am sure tweeting about Celiac Awareness Month, you are apparently in it right now.

There is a little debate about is whether May or October is/should be the month, but how about we have a bit of a sit down and discuss what is and isn't going on.

Last week, at an event, someone offered me salad. I politely declined. Confused, she pressed why I brought my own snack when salad is gluten-free. I explained that the salad was from a pizza place - red flag #1, and with unknown ingredients - #2, people were sharing - #3, and the boxes of salad were set below the boxes of pizza - #4, and that I don't know where the food is coming from - #5, and it goes against my personal rules of not eating from any place new during the first two weeks of class or during finals.

I was then offered the salad again, by another event goer, but I did not feel the need to explain again.

Sometimes I just do not want to do the work of education via explanation. It is work. Even when its exciting, helpful, clarifying, justifying, and accepted, it is work.

I bring up this story, because I want to say that every day is Celiac Awareness Month, Day, Hour and Minute when you are interacting with other gluten-eating humans. I do not want to take away from what is going on in D.C. today, or all the work of gf and celiac groups, researchers, etc. But I do want to highlight the real-lived work that is advocacy and education in restaurants, kitchens, places of work, doctors offices, grocery stores, hallways, phone calls, and online forms. These moments connect many of us. The work that one person does, explaining or advocating for gluten-free options or safety measures, helps the next person that walks through the door.

I am grateful for those campaigning, advocating and lobbying congress for gluten-free labeling laws - I signed the 1in133 petition - I feel that the best way to celebrate celiac awareness month is perhaps to focus on the everyday. I am not sure how this should look. High-fives down grocery story isles for everyone with gf products in their carts? More information sharing?

I don't know. What would make your life - or the life of your loved ones - easier? Is it more writing, recipes? Better labels? More stories about what life gluten free is like?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"real" injera

Teff is a very tiny grain - in the grass family - that is the basis of Ethiopian injera. It is a thin bread, that is sour, with a soft, spongy texture. Its sometimes described as a thin pancake or a thick crepe, but it is much more. It functions as plate and utensil in Ethiopian cuisine.

My first visit to D.C. I saw injera at a gas station, and began my hunt for some "real injera", injera that is made with just teff. The D.C. metro area has the largest population of Ethiopians in the U.S., but all the injera - at restaurants, markets and gas stations - are cut with wheat and or barley flour. Teff, outside of Ethiopia is extremely expensive, around $10 a pound.

I decided to give it one more try, at Dashen Ehtiapain Grocery in Silver Spring. There were over 7 different types of injera, but all, even the darkest in color, were cut with barley or wheat. The clerk was very helpful, going through the bags of bread and then eventually given tips to making injera from scratch - he said it was key to mix the teff flour with water and let the larger particles settle to the bottom and discard them. 

‎This is my first attempt at injera, and while the recipe couldn't be simplier, I feel like I might be missing something. Maybe the dough needs to ferment longer. Maybe there needs to be more water? Perhaps I should have added oil to make it easier to handle. I am not sure. But the results, even though a little ugly at first, were delicious!

I have secretly thought that teff might taste like pumpernickel. This injera is very sour, more sour than sourdough - which makes sense, because you are basically cooking just the sourdough starter. There are hints of pumpernickel - aka rye - flavor, which leads me to think that a teff-based fauxpernickel is in my future. 

1/2 cup teff flour
3/4 cup water

1. Combine teff flour and water in a jar. Stir well.
2. Allow to sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 2-3 days, or until bubbles form.

Time to make the injera!
3. Stir up the starter.
4. Add a pinch of salt.
5. Stir again.
6. Pour onto a lightly greased, flat-bottom pan.
7. Cook only on one side, till bubbles form and the dough darkens.

The first batch stuck, so I switched to the caste iron skillet, which worked a lot better.

With pratice, the shapes improved and they stuck less!

Overall, I think the flavor was right, but they were not as supple and soft as I think they are suppose to be. They fell apart when I used them to pick up food. But they really were delicious with left over Peruvian chicken - with hot sauce, rice and beans and sauteed asparagus with caamelized onions. Not bad for a last-minute, late-night dinner.


I was messing around a bit with google/blogger applications and I came across some stats on how many pageviews NGR gets.

Today: 84 views

Last month: 3,262 views

All time history: 22,614 views

I find counters on webpages sort of annoying, but this is pretty cool!

Pi ... a little late

Pie is better than cake. I am not even going to entertain the idea that you are reading this and disagreeing with me. I have only once ever gestured towards a brawl over a difference of opinions, and let's not break my track record.*  Pie is glorious and should be celebrated weekly, if not daily, but alas, not all have realized the awesome potential of pie. I, like many others, see March 14 as a great day to celebrate the best dessert, the best dish ever created.

There was a point in my life when I was pretty good at math. I was "that girl" who took advanced calculus in college, for fun. (I know, my river of dork runs deep and has many unexpected turns.) Pi, the 3.14 variety, was something I was grateful became integrated into graphing calculators. I still sort of miss my TI-83, but mostly for the Tetris. 

Pie crust
1 cup sweet rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca starch
2/3 cup potato starch
2./3 cup corn starch
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 eggs
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup half and half
ice water

1. Mix all dry ingredients together.
2. Cut cold butter in to pieces, cut into dry ingredients until the largest pieces of butter are about the size of peas.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and vinegar.
4. Pour the wet ingredients into butter mixture. Mix together.
5. Wrap in plastic or place in zip-top bag and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Apricot Filling
2 cups dried apricots (slab kind are tarter)
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
4 tsp corn starch

1. Combine the apricots, water, sugar, cider vinegar, and salt.
2. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook uncovered till the apricots plump and half the liquid is gone.
3. Remove the apricots, set aside, and reserve the liquid.
4. Whisk the cornstarch into the remaining liquid.
5. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid thickens.
6. Add the apricots back in and allow to cool.

Putting it all together
1. Divide dough in half. Roll dough out between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Dust the dough first with tapioca starch if a bit sticky.
2. Add in the filling.
3. Roll the second piece of dough to form top crust.
4. Crimp edges and dock top (make steam vents, perhaps in a dorky math symbol)
5. Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes or until golden brown.
6. Allow to cool completely before cutting.
7. Enjoy with strong coffee.

*I really should apologize to Marisa and our other guests that lovely evening at a piano bar, where we brought the average age of the audience down by 40. It was not appropriate for me to go to such extremes to explain my position that Frank Sinatra - womanizing aside - is far superior to Tony Bennett in every way possible. But honestly, I bet Marisa likes cake.