Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had a craving for peanut butter cookies that just wouldn’t quit, so what choice did I have but to bake a batch? I’m a believer that many of the best cookie recipes come from mundane sources—the backs of chocolate chip bags, newspaper articles, and old family recipes. So I went in search of a simple recipe straight from the source—peanut butter. I found what I was looking for on the MaraNatha website, a recipe with all of the familiar ingredients and no surprises.

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I used Cup 4 Cup for the flour because it’s the best gf mixture I’ve found, and I bake infrequently enough not to mind the expense. I also love the convenience of direct substitution—no changing the amount or adding xanthun gum. Since I’m allergic to eggs, I used one large, ripe, and well-beaten banana instead. I love banana and peanut butter together, so this substitution was an obvious one. (You can also use unrefined coconut oil instead of butter if you want to make this recipe vegan.) At the last possible moment, I decided to add in half a bag of Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips as well. If I’m going to indulge, I might as well include chocolate!

well mashed banana

well mashed banana

These cookies bake in just seven minutes, and they were so satisfying—soft, a little crumbly, and full of peanut butter flavor in every bite. Enjoy!

pre and post baked

pre and post baked

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Double Peanut Butter Cookies via MaraNathafoods.com

P.S. If you want to read an interesting article on the science behind the perfect chocolate chip cookie, this article from serious eats breaks down the way that each ingredient contributes to the final product.

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Southwest Turkey Burgers

The trick to making a delicious turkey burger is to season it well. Ground turkey is lower in fat than beef, which also means it doesn’t have enough flavor to stand on its own. This recipe adds chili powder and cumin to give the burger a Southwestern kick. The end result was so good!

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Crushed tortilla chips replace breadcrumbs as a binder, making this recipe gluten free. Instead of using a gluten free bun, I wrapped the burgers in lettuce and topped them with grilled onions, salsa and guacamole. I skipped the corn because I served this with my black bean and corn salad on the side.

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This meal completely satisfied my craving for Tex-Mex, and was much healthier than the beef alternative. Enjoy!

Southwest Turkey Burgers with Corn Salsa

Bon Appétit

Baby Lettuces with Feta, Strawberries, and Almonds

This strawberry salad made a lovely contribution to my book group’s brunch this month. I wanted to make a salad that tasted summery and looked beautiful, and this recipe did the trick!

sweet strawberries and tender baby greens make up the heart of this summer salad

sweet strawberries and tender baby greens make up the heart of this summer salad

For the greens, I went with a mix of baby spring greens. The strawberries I used were rather large, so I sliced them instead of quartering them. I’m loyal to a mild goat’s milk feta that I love. Goat’s milk is also easier to digest than cow’s milk, so it’s a great alternative for people with sensitivities. (Note: this is not the same as lactose-free, it’s just generally easier to digest.) If you’re nervous about using shallots in the dressing—don’t be. The sharpness of shallots adds a needed contrast to the sweetness of the strawberries. As long as they’re properly minced, you’ll be glad you used them. Soaking sliced shallots in ice water for 10 minutes before mincing them will also lower the intensity if you prefer a milder flavor.

salty-sweet marcona almonds

salty-sweet marcona almonds

Surprisingly, my local grocery store was out of smoked almonds, so after considering my options I decided to go with Marcona almonds. These Spanish almonds are soft and sweet, and typically fried and heavily salted. They added the crunchiness and saltiness that the smoked almonds would have, but I prefer their mildness to the heavy smoky flavor of smoked almonds. They’re also soft enough that my lazy-self didn’t need to chop them first.

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This salad was a cinch to make and good the next day, as long as you keep the dressing on the side until serving. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

Baby Lettuces with Feta, Strawberries, and Almonds by Jeff Banker

Food and Wine            June 2012

Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragú

This one-dish meal tastes rich and intricate, but takes less than an hour to make. The salmon and cannellini beans are low fat sources of protein, keeping this dish healthy and satisfying despite the flavorful addition of prosciutto.

thyme and tomatoes are a standard pairing for cannellini beans

thyme and tomatoes are a standard pairing for cannellini beans

The recipe starts by simmering the shallots, garlic, tomatoes, and thyme with the beans, enriching them with flavor. The prosciutto brings in some depth and heartiness, balanced nicely by the lemon zest and fresh escarole. This was my first time cooking escarole, and I was pleased with the slight earthiness it added to the ragú. If you can’t find escarole, I have it on good authority that spinach is a suitable substitute. (Thanks for the tip, mom!)

escarole!

escarole!

Broiling the salmon as instructed cooked our filets exactly to medium. I didn’t bother with using two different mustards because I enjoy the spiciness of Dijon, but if you prefer something subtler I would recommend following the recipe exactly. Mustard is also an ingredient that you need to double check for gluten. Mustard flour contains wheat and is sometimes added to prepared mustard. I like Annie’s Naturals Dijon, which is labeled gluten free.

Actual cooking time is less than 15 minutes, so if you get the salmon in the oven while the beans are still simmering you can eat in under half an hour. Ben and I prepared this meal together, and it was a quick and easy recipe with the aid of a sous-chef. It was also delicious! This healthy, but decadent, preparation of salmon will definitely make it to my table again.

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Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragú by Giada de Laurentis

Food and Wine May 2014

Principles of Healthy Eating

 I’m not interested in fad diets. I would never give up gluten if my body would let me digest it, and I think any weight-loss based eating plan that involves cutting out an entire food group is a little bit crazy. There are many great reasons to avoid certain foods—from allergies to ethics—but just as many not-so-great reasons. I believe that the best nutrition comes from whole foods, healthy fats, and eating a varied diet. Our bodies are different and there is no single diet that will work for everyone, but there are some basic principles that I eat and live by.

Some fat is good for you. Healthy sources of fat, such as nuts, olive oil, avocado, and lean fish and meats will always be staples in my diet.

Minimized processed foods. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooking from scratch increase the nutrition in what you eat and limits your exposure to strange ingredients, chemicals, and food dyes.

Listen to your body. I do my best to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. By paying attention to how you feel after you eat, you can identify which foods give you a natural boost of energy and keep you feeling good.

Try new things! A varied diet may increase the healthy microbes in your gut, and it certainly increases the odds that you will get more essential nutrients from the food that you eat without relying on vitamins, which aren’t absorbed as efficiently as food.

Indulge (a little.) I eat a few squares of dark chocolate every day. It satisfies my craving for something sweet and keeps me from feeling deprived, which can lead to overindulging.

This is what works for me. It keeps my relationship to food fun and balanced, and keeps my body feeling healthy and strong. I hope you discover what works for you. If you have anything to add, please share in the comments!

The Final Phase of Gluten Free: Beauty Products

I transitioned to gluten free eating almost seven years ago. It was a revelation! I suddenly had my life back. A year or two into my new diet, I vaguely remember someone asking me if my makeup is gluten free. In a panic, I googled by Burts Bees Pomegranate lip balm and discovered that I was safe, and that’s where my search ended. I figured if it wasn’t on my lips and I wasn’t getting rashes, I was probably fine.

As some of you may know, I’m getting married in August. A good friend of mine is a cosmetologist, and she’s agreed to do my makeup for the wedding. Always conscientious, she started our planning conversation by asking if I use gluten-free makeup. I said, “I’m not really worried about it,” but in the back of my mind I began to wonder. Now that I have a better understanding of exactly how sensitive I actually am, and how pervasive gluten is, I became curious about just how much gluten is in my daily regime. The sad news? A lot. It’s in my shampoo and conditioner, which is no big deal, except that I definitely touch my hair and my face during the day. But set that aside, because it’s possibly in my face cleanser. I say possibly because it’s not really clear if it is, or if it isn’t. And that’s just the beginning! When I actually listed out all of the products I use on a daily basis, I identified half a dozen products that make contact with my skin every day—and several of them either contain gluten, or may contain gluten.

I’ve been devoted to The Body Shop for years, so I did some research and found lists of their gluten-free and gluten-contaminated products. I was dismayed to discover that most of my favorite products weren’t on either list. Fortunately, when I contacted The Body Shop they responded quickly, and most of what I’ve been using is safe. I’m just grateful they know what’s in their products, because so many companies don’t have a clue. Honestly, I’m one of those celiac folks who accept some cross-contamination as a matter of course. I know that I don’t have the ability to remove all gluten from my environment no matter how hard I try. But if I’m using multiple products every day that contain gluten-based ingredients, I’m fairly certain that I’m ingesting a little bit along the way. I have some mild symptoms that I haven’t been able to eradicate, and now I’m suspicious that my face cleanser and eye cream are the cause of these nagging symptoms. (Vitamin E oil can be derived from wheat, just so you know!)

Eliminating gluten from my diet was a big step. Although the extent of the issue can feel overwhelming, I’ve made the decision that I need to care about my skin care and beauty products, too. It’s just too much risk and not enough reward. I’m a little sad to leave behind the face cleanser I’ve been using for years, but what’s the point of being so intentional about eating gluten free if I’m literally washing my face in it? A few small changes could have a big impact on my health, so it’s definitely worth it.

Feeling Strong

I consider myself a naturally sedentary person. My sister was the athletic one when we were kids, and while she was out playing soccer I was at home playing piano. Even when I was doing something active, like swimming or riding my bike, I didn’t like to push myself. Once heavy breathing and sweat were involved I was ready to call it a day.

Being sick changed all of that for me. After a week in a hospital bed, walking across the room would take me out of breath. My frailty was disturbing, to say the least. It made me long for the days when my body was capable and strong. Now that I have my health I enjoy being active and setting physical goals. Last year I joined a strength-training group and it was amazing! It was fun to work out with a group of women who were so positive and encouraging. The instructor was great about giving us options so we could go at our own pace and ability. For the first month I think my goal was just to get through the class having completed all of the exercises. Sticking with it paid off—I have upper body strength for the first time in my life and my stamina for all kinds of activities has increased.

When my favorite instructor left my gym, I joined another group of inspiring and supportive women who meet weekly for a workout. I work harder in the class then I do on my own and it feels good to cheer each other on. Embracing exercise may not seem like anything profound, but I feel grateful that I have learned to appreciate my body while I’m still fairly young. I have friends in their 60’s and 70’s who tell me how lucky I am that I take care of my body at my age. If I take care of myself now, who knows what I will be capable of in my 60’s? My aunt climbed a 14,000 ft mountain to celebrate her 60th birthday. I want to be that strong and healthy when I grow up!

Now it’s time for some of my favorite exercise music and other random link love. If you have a great workout playlist, please share in the comments.

Icona Pop I Love It

Cut Copy Lights and Music

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings How Do I Let a Good Man Down?

White Rabbits Percussion Gun

Vampire Weekend Unbelievers

And a few random happy things: 

10 Decadent GF desserts from Food 52

Amazing Food Dioramas

Willamette Week Portland GF Dining Guide

Old-Fashioned Gingerbread

To be honest, I agonized a little over what to bring to my future in-laws house for Christmas. In the final hours I settled on gingerbread cake. Baking this cake literally filled the house with the smells of Christmas. It’s moist and well spiced, and deeply, deeply satisfying.

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The only substitution I made was to use brown sugar instead of cane sugar. To the best of my knowledge, a little extra molasses flavor has never hurt a gingerbread cake. Speaking of molasses, don’t even entertain the thought of making something in the gingerbread family if it doesn’t call for this rich, dark syrup. There are only two ingredients that make gingerbread what it is—ginger and molasses. Everything else is an avenue for these two flavors to shine.

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The other great thing about this cake is that I had almost every ingredient on hand. It’s not difficult to make, but it does take some patience to mix the sticky molasses and water in thoroughly. My cake was done in 35 minutes and probably could have come out of the oven a few minutes earlier. With a little dollop of maple whipped cream on top, this cake is like tasting Christmas.

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Old-Fashioned Gingerbread

Fine Cooking            Issue 23

Black Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin (or Portabella Mushrooms) with Chimichurri Sauce

I’m not cooking a traditional Christmas dinner this year, but I wanted to share a recipe that’s worthy of the holidays. Steak is the perfect meal for an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner. I love that this dish is simple and special at the same time. Good beef doesn’t need a lot of dressing up. You create a crust of salt and pepper, sear it in cast iron, and pop it in the oven to allow it to cook through. I initially set the timer for 120 degrees internal temperature, but decided to wait until it hit 125 so the steak would be rare-approaching-medium-rare.

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The chimichurri sauce tastes fresh, full of herbs enriched with a little garlic and olive oil. Unlike rich, buttery sauces, it doesn’t hide the flavor of the beef. Instead it adds an herbaceous savory note that complements the meat. There is enough time to prepare the chimichurri while the steaks are coming to room temperature, which makes it possible to prepare this meal in under an hour.

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DSCN1677This Braised Winter Squash & Potatoes with Mustard & Shallots recipe paired with the steak perfectly. I’m not adverse to leftovers, but I didn’t want to have steak two nights in row. Instead I used the remaining chimichurri sauce to marinate and roast some Portabella mushrooms. They were delicious but I’m not going to lie—the steak was better. That said Portabella mushrooms are the steak of the vegetarian world. They are hearty, savory, and even have a meaty texture. I cleaned them and removed the stems, put a little cross hatch in the center of the caps, and lightly coated them with the chimichurri, salt, and pepper. I roasted them for 10 minutes per side at 400 degrees and topped them with the remaining sauce. You can get a walk-through version of this technique here.

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This is one of my favorite steak recipes because it’s easy and impressive. Whether you go the steak or mushroom route, may this meal help you ring in a New Year!

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Black-Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Chimichurri Sauce

Fine Cooking            August 2012

Cafe Milano: Dining Out Italian-Style

My Aunt Therese was diagnosed with celiac a few years before me, and she’s been a wonderful resource and friend as I learned how to adjust to a gluten free diet. We have a lot in common, including our love of food and cooking. I asked her to write a guest post for the blog and here it is!

There are two things I appreciate about her post. First, she wrote about Italian food. We’ve both spent time in Italy and can’t say enough good things about authentic Italian cuisine. When you say you can’t eat gluten, most people immediately think of pasta and bread. For that reason, it may be surprising to discover that traditional Italian food has a lot to offer a gf person. A good Italian restaurant should be able to offer several gluten free options, including risotto, meats, and possibly gf pasta. Therese’s experience is a general guide to gluten free dining, Italian-style.

I’m also grateful that she mentions her happiness watching others eat good food, even if it’s something she can’t have. This may not be true of everyone with celiac, but I completely agree with my Aunt. People are inclined to apologize if they’re enjoying a gluten-filled food in front of me. There’s no need! If it’s well made and you’re savoring it, I’m happy for you. Especially because I pretty much always have my own plate of deliciousness, too. And with that, I would like you to meet my Aunt Therese.

Café Milano

 I am Ms. Stephanie’s aunt, Therese, and a diagnosed celiac as well.  Steph and I have a lot in common, one most particularly is our love of good food!  My husband, Charlie, and I were fortunate to visit La Jolla, California recently as a gift to ourselves for Christmas.  Charlie and I don’t exchange gifts, instead we prefer to “have experiences”.  Stephanie’s parents, Joe and Jane, (my bro and sister-in-law) arranged to meet us for an overnight visit.  We’ve spent a lot of time together in La Jolla and really enjoy the coast, our walks and the fabulous restaurants.

One restaurant we frequent is Café Milano. A photolovely Italian gentleman, Pasquale, has served his good cuisine for years here, and I always smile when I pull up out front to see the lighted Fiat.  He keeps the lights on all year, but now at Christmas, has the packages on top and Santa in the driver’s seat!  Great advertising!

Inside is cozy and warm and the service is attentive.  They accommodate special diets very well.  They have gluten free pasta, and can make any veal or chicken dish gluten free by not dusting the protein with flour ahead of time.  My favorite starter is the Italian straticcella soup made with homemade chicken stock, fresh spinach, an egg whirled in, and topped with parmagiana reggiano. It’s soul satisfying, delicious and the perfect light start to the meal.

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Our choices were varied: I had veal parmesan with capers and a side of spaghetti with olive oil and garlic, oh gosh, yum…photo-4

You don’t see the gluten free pasta here because I had eaten it all on a side plate!  They know exactly how to cook gluten free pasta because, hey, they are Italian!!!  A lovely Caprese here was just as fresh as could be with homemade mozzarella and the freshest of basil and delicious artichokes and although I hadn’t ordered it, my brother graciously shared.

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The meatballs looked really, really good. Unfortunately they weren’t gluten free, but I still admired them.  I am always happy when someone eats good food in front of me and enjoys it!

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Same goes for the wild mushroom risotto — it was lovingly prepared and I was too full to share in that dish!

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Pasquale and his staff always make us feel so welcome.  My family is so important to me and to make and keep traditions alive is the best ever.  Who knows, we may find another restaurant next time, but sharing time and sharing food and making laughter is the best Christmas gift ever!

therese, joe, jane, charlie

therese, joe, jane, charlie

May your holidays be bright, your hearts full, your smiles bright, and may you know that you are loved!  Merry Christmas, Therese.

For those of you interested in gffriendly Italian restaurants in Portland, check out Iorio  or D.O.C.