September 29, 2010

The Keg

The other night the Honey and I went out for dinner. We had a gift certificate for The Keg and I was going to be in the Market anyway so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to treat ourselves.

As we were sitting there enjoying a glass of wine, I realized that I could have almost anything I wanted. I say ‘almost’ because gluten was the reason some items were off-limits. But in experimenting with meat, I had a choice. I wasn’t resigned to having salmon – although I love salmon, I don’t want it every time I eat out. (Vegetarians: close your eyes) I was at a steakhouse and I could have steak!

Surprisingly, or maybe not to some, The Keg is quite celiac friendly. Our server was very helpful and keen to get information he didn’t know (he was new) and on a return trip he came back with a gluten-free menu. Of course there are the usual culprits missing, such as bread, but also some sauces or items that may have gluten or are thickened with flour. All in all, the selection is still quite large. The manager even came over to discuss the menu and their commitment to their customers. It was very unexpected, but also great to see.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – the service, the food, and the wine. I just wish I remembered the name of the wine we had, it was amazing.

September 26, 2010

Hummus and Chips

Yesterday lunch was an easy and light one. Dinner was early last night since we were going to a friend’s house-warming party.

It’s hard to find a hummus that isn’t loaded with mayo and eggs. I could make my own, but whenever I do, it has a very strong garlic taste, no matter how little garlic I use. This Lemon Dill Hummus is great. The lemon and dill isn’t overpowering and not too faint. It’s just there.

These Baked Lentil Chips I picked up at Bulk Barn are nice and hold up to a thick dip. They tasted really good with the hummus.

The hummus is at most grocery stores where the dips are kept are the usual price. The lentil chips (by The Mediterranean Snack Co. ) can be found at Bulk Barn (around $3.50 a bag).

September 24, 2010

Down in Funky Town

I’ve returned to a bit of a funk this week. The weather has been relatively horrible; cool and rainy. I can’t seem to shake a chill that has crept its way deep down into my bones. Yesterday I was concerned I was coming down with something. Cup after cup of herbal tea couldn’t warm me up, and neither could cover with blankets on the couch.

I met a friend for breakfast yesterday morning and she’s in a bit of a funk too. It doesn’t seem like I’m the only one, the toilet is acting up and the element on the dryer quit last night.

Do moons need to be aligned in some sort of way for things to happen, well, as it should?

It’s been a while since I had some bread so I baked myself a loaf in the handy bread machine. This recipe is from the Joy of Cooking, which surprisingly, has a few gluten-free recipes in the bread chapter.

Sliced, then toasted and spread with some pesto. Then topped with some sundried tomatoes. An easy lunch for when I don’t feel like having much and it was tasty. Simple and tasty. It also made a perfect grilled cheese.

GF French Bread
2 ¼ cup brown rice flour
¾ cup tapioca flour
¼ cup potato starch
2/3 cup nonfat dry milk
2 tbs sugar
3 ¼ tsp xanthan gum
1 tbs egg replacer *
1 tbs + 2 tsp quick-rising yeast
¼ tsp salt
¼ rice vinegar
1 egg
2 egg whites
1 ½ cups warm water
2 tbs melted butter
Mix according to your bread machine directions. Using the gluten-free cycle my machine needed another 45-60 mins baking time.
*1 egg replacer=1tbs flaxseed and 3-4 tbs water
(Can be used to make 2 baguettes by just using the dough setting and baking in an oven. Check the website for more detailed directions).

September 21, 2010

A Warm-up

Driving home from New York last night we heard the local weather forecast: sunny and warm with a high around 20°. The Honey and I were quite happy to hear that as we were dreading what weather was awaiting our return, especially with shorts and tank-top weather in Atlantic City and New York. Needless to say I was crestfallen this morning when the radio announcer piped out ‘cold with chance of showers today’. What happened to that great weather? And overnight?!?

It has been a miserable day and it looks as though the sun is peeking out a bit. Will it return tomorrow for a beautiful day? All day I’ve had a chill that runs deep down. Since we were out of town all week there isn’t much in the fridge and everything in the freezer requires some thawing/planning. A trip to the store will be in order. When I had heard sunny weather was in the forecast I hoped to take a walk down to the market to pick up some greens and veggies for a nice salad. Instead, it looks like soup.

To warm me up from the inside out I settled on a can of Spicy Black Bean Soup. It’s Loblaw’s Blue Menu line and some of them are good for those of us who are gluten-free. The ingredients are pretty healthy (being from their ‘Blue Menu’ line), low in fat, and as for the flour, it contains rice flour.

The soup is nice and hearty and would be perfect with a slice of GF garlic toast. For a canned soup, it’s tasty and nice and easy.

About the trip? One word: Fab-U-lus! I’ll post about it later this week as it’s possible to eat GF there, and often it was lip-smacking good.

September 11, 2010

Beautiful Blue

Often we head into Gatineau Park for a walk or a hike. It’s a change of pace from our usual route down the Ottawa River or along our neighbouring streets. We like the peace and tranquility of it and I’m sure we aren’t alone.

One of our favourite trails is the one around Pink Lake (named after a family not the colour of the water). It’s a great trail as there are steps going up (way up) and down to follow the rock and hills around it. It’s a great way to work off an early breakfast. When we walk at a good pace we can complete it in just under an hour, but we like to stop here and there looking at the fish along the edges, turtles and frogs sunning themselves, and keeping an eye out for the chipmunks running around.

Another reason we like this trail so much is because of the water. It resembles the water I’ve seen in postcards from the Caribbean. It’s dreamlike and it instantly makes me calm.

I have a thing for water. That’s one of the reasons my showers are so long. While there is no swimming here I love looking out at the water. There are few places along this trail where you don’t see the water.

Much of it is open and there are times you can catch glimpses through the trees. Every time I see it appear from the trees I feel like I’m somewhere else. It is only when I hear a child shout or I trip on a tree root am I brought back into the present moment.

September 10, 2010

A slowdown

My schedule has slowed down a lot in the last two weeks. It was nice at first as I could putter around the house and spend some time outside. But this week, I don’t like it so much. I’d much rather be at work and I’m beginning to get a little bored.

I was a little down the other day, under the weather and feeling a little fed up with the waiting game. Many times it feels like it’s either feast or famine, and right now it’s famine. As much as I love what I do the downside is being between students and just waiting for new ones to register or coordinators with government departments making the arrangements. The upside is I’m not the only ESL teacher that goes through this, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

Yesterday I got my butt into gear and into the kitchen. It was a miserable day again outside and sometimes I feel so much better when I’m in the kitchen. The honey had requested a banana loaf and there were some apples for an apple cake too. Monday we picked up some ingredients for a tomato pepper soup we enjoy. I had my list so I made a nice cup of mint tea, got a few chocolates to go with it, and off I went.

The recipe for the soup is from Foodland Ontario; I love picking up their little booklets from the produce section. The recipe has been adapted slightly to my cooking style. As much as I love roasted peppers, I can’t be bothered roasting them. I can get them from a jar, but then that defeats the purpose of using fresh (and local) produce. Instead I chop them up and sauté them slowly over low heat; they become nice and sweet and juicy. The same is done with the tomatoes. It may take some time, but while everything is cooking away I can do other things. The end product is delicious. It’s a nice sweet soup with a dash of herbs to complement it.

I goofed a bit when making the apple cake, adding the flour mixture to the wet instead of the other way round. It turned out alright, but I’ll make another attempt another day before posting it. I’ve attempted apple goodies before, never with much success – strudels, pies, tarts. My Polish friend gave me her family recipe to try, and like I said, it turned out alright. It didn’t taste like hers, but then again, it’s been 8 months since I had a bite. We’ll have to wait and see until apple cake #2.

While the loafs and cake were baking I caught sight of a package of Bob’s Red Mill out of the corner of my eye. Some time ago Bob’s Red Mill products were on sale at Metro so I picked up a bunch to try out. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really into mixes, but for the sake of trying something gluten-free, I’ll give it a shot. It had been sitting on my counter for quite a while so it was as good a time as any. Yesterday’s experiment was their Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix.

All that is needed is ½ cup butter or margarine and 1 egg. Following the instructions carefully (this seemed easy so I was bound to mess it up) I started rolling the dough into balls. The dough seemed really dry and crumbly; nothing like I’d seen before. It was staying in balls though so I kept going.

Twenty minutes later out they came; nice and soft. I’ve heard there’s nothing like fresh cookies from the oven all warm and gooey. Well, they were warm but not gooey. In fact, the cookies were quite dry (I wondered about that while mixing the dough). Hmmm, I think these are a pass. While the experience of having warm freshly baked cookies is nice – and something that doesn’t happen too often in my house – I think I’ll try to find a nice recipe from scratch.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
6 servings
1 ½ hours
3 large red peppers, chopped into large pieces
3 large tomatoes, chopped into large pieces
5 large cloves of garlic, chopped into large pieces
1 large onion, chopped into large pieces
2 tbs olive oil
½ tsp each dried thyme, rosemary and basil
¼ tsp salt and pepper
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
Sour cream and fresh herbs for garnish
Sauté the peppers over low heat until softened. Add the tomatoes and continue until they soften. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over medium/medium-low heat. Let simmer for 15 minutes or so. Puree.
I have a hand whizzer so puree-ing it is really easy. If you use a blender, you’ll need to wait until it cools first.

September 7, 2010

Gluten Free Margarine

Recently, a product popped up on the shelf at my local Metro and I was intrigued by it. Not only was the packaging in nice colours and a green plant, but was labelled ‘Vegan’, ‘Lactose Free’, and ‘Gluten Free’.

I analyzed the packaging, being a little perplexed. Wasn’t all margarine more-or-less vegan? I’d seen very few with a dairy product in the list of ingredients. And what was gluten doing in margarine?! That is something I’ve never seen in the list of ingredients.

Finally I got around to check out the website for Becel, maker of this Vegan Margarine, and looked at the ingredients for their products. Unfortunately, their contact page is missing a ‘Send’ button so I called them instead. The representative I spoke to was really helpful and clarified a few things: All of Becel’s margarine is gluten free; Not all of their margarines are considered vegan as some are listed to have dairy and/or lactose; Becel gets many queries about gluten in their products so they decided to label this new product gluten-free. As an aside, the representative also mentioned that a few of their other products are gluten free – Skippy Peanut Butter, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Ragu Tomato Sauce, and Lipton Ice Tea.

Needless to say, I had to try the vegan margarine out. And I’m pleased to say that it tastes the same as the other Becel products (we normally buy the Becel Olive Oil or Salt Free Margarine – the health check symbols sways me). I’m in no way a margarine connoisseur, but I’m happy with the product. And lucky for us, it’s the same price as the other Becel margarine products at Metro. It’s nice to see that the gluten-free label hasn’t raised the price for a change.

September 6, 2010

All good things must come to an end

Although summer doesn’t officially end for a few more weeks, Labour Day Weekend is always the signal that summer is over. Kids go back to school (even though many schools are now starting before Labour Day), the days are getting shorter, the big squash have appeared at the market, and the nights are getting cooler. The last few days have been quite cold compared to the recent heat wave we had. There won’t be too many days left for BBQing.

This long weekend, despite the chilly weather, has been an enjoyable one. We’ve been taking the days as they come, getting something done here and there, and enjoying some good food. Yesterday I met a friend for another jam-making session. She had picked up some peaches and was keen on making some more jam. My freezer was beginning to look pretty full, but there was room for a few more jars.

My friend is/was a trained pastry chef (‘was’ because she switched careers and teaches ESL) and so I picked her brain about some mango freezer jam I had made earlier in the week. The sugar didn’t dissolve and I didn’t think I had done anything wrong (she suggested boiling it and turning it into chutney – I’ll keep you posted on how it tastes). I had made a second batch thinking it was me, but I now believe it was the Certo recipe. This isn’t the first time I’ve made a Certo freezer jam recipe and it didn’t turn out. The strawberry seems to be no fail, but the others, I’m not so sure about. I felt a bit better after our peach jam refused to set; it happens to pros too. She had picked up a new product at Loblaws by Redpath called Quickset. It was a package of sugar and pectin for jam making. We followed those instructions to tee and after an hour or two it was still liquid. We pulled out two packs of the Clubhouse pectin and slowly added them while stirring and waiting. Success! When in doubt, go back to the original way of doing things.

Back at home lunch was beckoning me. Hunger hit me on the way home and I felt like a nice cheese sandwich. I sliced up the last of my gluten-free sandwich bread, toasted it, lathered on some Dijon mustard, sliced some strong creamy brie, and sliced up a tomato. It was slightly messy (but so would regular bread) and it tasted so good.

Afterwards, I made myself a nice cup of lemongrass tea and had some gluten-free lemon shortbread cookies. The tea is wonderful and comes from Nectar tea shop on Wellington St (near Holland) and the cookies are from Patsy Pie. I’ve heard rave reviews about them, but the price of these gluten-free cookies always makes me take a pass. A few weeks ago they were on sale at Farm Boy so I thought I’d try them out. There aren’t many good gluten-free shortbread cookies out there so I picked up a bag. I must say that they are delicious. I picked up a few more bags and stashed them in the freezer. 

Yesterday’s cool windy weather was perfect for a cup of tea and the last two cookies.

The rest of the day was spent in front of the stove. It wasn’t too bad as I was able to stay nice and toasty. I tried to repair the mango jam/chutney and later rearranged the freezer to fit in the day’s canning.

We'll see what this tastes like

Squeezing everything in

Some frozen veggies had to come out of the freezer to make room. They ended up in a marinade and in the oven for dinner. I also scrubbed some beets to roast for tonight’s dinner. It’s a recipe from a recent Chatelaine so we’ll see how it goes (I find their recipes hit-and-miss). Other than the veggies, dinner was simple.

Now that summer is coming to an end I’m hoping that carefree days like this won’t also come to an end.

Orange Marinade: mix together some olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, minced garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper

September 4, 2010

Chilly Weather

With a cold front here it seemed like a good time to turn the oven on. This week was so hot it was only easy and cool things to eat. But today is a different story and I didn’t mind standing in front of the stove. Dinner was marinated lemon garlic chicken and cherry tomato pasta.

Chicken is one of those things that I’m concerned about cooking, lest I accidently poison anyone or dry it out. That is what my Honey encounters when I cook it. I figured, what did I care, I wasn’t going to eat it and he could always cook meat himself. So if it was underdone, back in it went. But now that I’m experimenting with meat I wanted it to taste good and do the job properly. Thankfully The Joy of Cooking is really helpful. I’ve made this a few times and find it quite nice, and have tried different parts (breasts, thighs) even though the recipe calls for a whole chicken. As you can see, it’s really easy to put together.

Another easy dish was the pasta. Once all the tomatoes got halved, it was easy peasy. Even though the weather was chilly, I still wanted something light. The recipe is from September’s issue of Style at Home. The spaghetti is Le Veneziane, which I pick up for a good price at DiRienzo Foods on Meadowlands (at the corner of Fisher). They have a nice selection of corn pasta (gluten free). The fresh tomatoes from the market made it so nice.

Lemon Garlic Chicken
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
1-2 tbs minced garlic
1 tbs Dijon mustard
½ tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper
3 ½ lbs chicken
Combine the ingredients and marinade the chicken for 1-3 hours. Cook the chicken as you like; baking, broiling and grilling work best as they brown nicely.

Cherry Tomato Pasta
200g spaghetti
1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tbs butter
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
Shaved parmesan to serve
Cook pasta in a large pot of water until al dente. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the butter and when melted add the onions and garlic. Cook for 1 minute. Add vinegar, tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook another 2-3 minutes, until warmed through. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add the tomatoes, parsley and toss. Sprinkle with parmesan.

September 3, 2010

Bella Vista Restaurant

The other day it was the Honey’s birthday and I wanted to take him out for something he would enjoy. There are hundreds of places to choose from, but I’ve got a man who likes things to be simple. He isn’t impressed with all the bells and whistles. And to a point I agree. We have been to many restaurants that cost a pretty penny only to be disappointed. For his birthday his choice was steak or pizza and my man chose pizza. So off we were to Bella Vista Restaurant at 2645 Alta Vista Dr (corner of Alta Vista and Bank St).

Bella Vista is an Italian and Canadian restaurant specializing in what else? Pizza and pasta. They also have burgers and hot sandwiches, but I go there for the gluten-free pizza. It’s to die for. Since the new year, I’ve only had the gluten-free pizza from Pizza Pizza and I’m always disappointed. They have nothing on the gluten- free pizza at Bella Vista. The dough is fluffy and tastes the same as regular crust. You would never know its gluten free. The sauce is homemade and the items are fresh.

I could go on and on about the great pizza. For me, it’s worth the drive across town. Don’t feel like pizza? Their spaghetti and fettuccini are also available gluten free.