CB Likes Food, Too

Sometimes I’m so selfless, I make food for people I can’t even eat! Now that I’m truly getting better from my surgery, I’m trying to do more things when I’m not grading essays.  This week, I made a lunch (and dinner) for CB that had prawns — a food I am VERY allergic to — but was actually gluten-free.  I made myself a dinner out of the non-prawny leftovers with a wee bit of chicken cooked with the same flavours but with olive oil instead of the butter.  I’m pretty sure this would be tasty without any meat if you amp up the veggies a bit more.  Any veggies could go well with it, I think.  If you substituted the butter, you could even make it vegan!

Prawn and Veggie Quinoa

Ingredients
prawns — 8-9 per person, I cheated and bought peeled & cooked, but it was to be sure I wasn’t in too much contact with them
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water (plus some in a bowl)
1 vegetable stock cube (optional)
handful of black olives, pitted
handful of cherry tomatoes
handful of green beans
half-head of broccoli
1 lime
little gem lettuce — or small romaine leaves
fresh coriander leaves — cilantro on that side of the ocean
a few tablespoons of butter
garlic powder
chili flakes
black pepper

Hardware
mixing bowl
a couple of pots and pans (at least one pot with a lid)
stove
bowl
fine mesh strainer
colander
assorted metal cooking utensils
knife

Directions
Pour the quinoa into the mesh strainer and rinse under water for about two minutes, rubbing the grains within your fingers.  This step is important because quinoa can taste bitter and woody if you don’t remove the natural outer coating.  Some quinoa comes pre-scrubbed, but I still give it a go-over.  In a decent-sized pot, melt enough butter to coat the bottom. Toss in the quinoa and stir vigorously until you get a nutty scent.  If, like me, you have spent most of your life nasally-impaired, this takes about 45 seconds to a minute.  Pour the water over the quinoa and stir.  When the water begins to boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  If there is still water in the pan, re-cover and let it continue to simmer until all the water evaporates.  Turn off the heat and let it stand uncovered for five minutes.  Dump it into the mixing bowl and fluff with a fork.

Boil water in another pot with a bit of sea salt.  Chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces.  I cooked the broccoli and the green beans together because, well, I don’t see why not.  Cook to your desired consistency, drain, and dunk immediately in a bowl of cold water for a minute or so.

Cut the green beans into manageable pieces.  Drop it and the broccoli into the mixing bowl with the quinoa.  Cut the olives in half and toss in the quinoa.  Chop the coriander roughly (I used herb scissors I got as a wedding present that made me feel very special indeed) into the mix.  Toss it all together until it is well-mixed.

Ok, I tried to get a little fancy with the tomatoes.  I cut them in half and put them in a very hot, heavy-bottomed pan — NOT flat side down.  If you put them flat side down, the heat will pull the seeds out and get gunky. But, the magic is, if you leave them down on one round part and leave them there for a couple of minutes, they will char on that side and create a sweetness throughout the whole bite.  Just make sure to remove them before they start smoking and dump them in the mixing bowl.

Now for the prawns!  I don’t generally cook things I’m allergic to, so I’m glad these came out as well as they did.  I put a fair amount of butter in a pan — more than I thought was needed, actually.  Toss in the garlic powder, chili flakes, and black pepper. Squeeze half the lime (don’t worry about trying too hard) into the butter and spice mixture and stir it all around.  When it’s nice and bubbly and coating the entire pan surface — and then some! — place the prawns in one at a time.  I like to place them into the pan clockwise, so I know what order to flip them.  After about 30 seconds, swirl the pan around.  After another 30 seconds, flip them over.  Do the same again.  Obviously, if you have uncooked prawns to started, you’re going to need to cook them more.  I have no idea about that.

Place the lettuce leaves out on a plate. Spoon the quinoa mixture on top of them. Place the prawns on top.  Offer up lime wedges for an extra tang.

Here is CB’s lunch box for Monday. It may not look like it, but there was a TON of quinoa packed in there (and a lime wedge in the wee box).

prawn quinoa

Jennifer Esposito Calls out CBS, and I Make Tacos

Lest I fall into the same pattern as the shops around town, I made sure to make my mother a gluten-free dinner that didn’t have to be made with exceptions or substitutions.  It’s not hard to find a cake or cookie suitable for a gluten-free lifestyle in Tesco or M&S; this is not to say that they are all tasty!  However, it’s much harder to find a decent loaf of bread.  Considering all the foods that have “hidden” gluten — meaning, not just bread — it’s more important that we can eat dinner than dessert!

As I watch my mother struggle with her new lifestyle, I realise how lucky I was to have supportive folks around me as I worked my way through the changes.  I did it very much alone in the sense that I didn’t know anyone who could give me advice or show me the ropes, but I did have my husband (while he was still on the way to being my husband) and our families for moral support.

All these thoughts were piqued today when I read this article: Blue Bloods’ Jennifer Esposito Departs Show, Slams CBS For Its ‘Shameful Behavior’.  I don’t know this actress (I mean, I’ve seen her in things) or anyone else on the show or in the network, so I can’t speak to what truly happened.  However, her words “[…] CBS implied that I was nottruly ill […]” struck such a chord with me.  I know most Celiacs don’t like to actually say “Celiac Disease” because it sounds so terrible like that.  However, it IS a disease, and it is something that requires actual treatment and consideration.  Some people think that, just because the most-known treatment is not eating particular food that it’s not as bad as other diseases.  You don’t hear people saying the same about Diabetes, which also involves a specific diet as a major form of treatment.  While, like I said, I don’t know for a fact that CBS acted terribly, her phrasing makes it sounds real.  It is something that happens, and it shouldn’t.

Anyway, so, in an effort to support my mother through the process and show her that real food is within reach, I made tacos.  Tacos have long been one of her favourite meals, but removing both beef and gluten from her diet have made the concept of making them unappealing for her.  What follows isn’t really a recipe for tacos as much as it is just a chronicle of the meal.

I made tortillas with masa harina (OH! That is what was in the mystery jar! Mystery solved!), water, and sea salt in my tortilla press. I fried them without oil in a cast iron skillet and kept them warm until everything else was prepared.  I battered the chicken lightly in a seasoned corn meal and pan fried.  It was served with lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and salsa (I decided against the salsa because of my recent surgery).  It was a great send-off for my mother’s last meal in Belfast (this time!).

tacos

Always Forward, Just Sometimes with Cheesecake

Sydney likes breathing!  My surgery has come and gone, and I’m definitely on the path to recovering well.  I had the last of the things intruding into my face removed on Monday, and now I just have to let it do what it’s meant to do.  In the meantime, I’m learning about breathing through my nose — which should be a reflex but isn’t anymore after years of disuse.

One of the great things about the surgery was that my mother was able to come and look after me.  I didn’t know in what way she would be helpful, but she definitely was.  She did the majority of the cooking and cleaning, allowing CB to go to work without guilt.  I used what energy I had to pursue what I felt like was a a very noble goal:

Make Mum feel less crap about living gluten-free

I wanted to show her that, while not always easy — especially not in places like Belfast or rural Georgia — a gluten-free life doesn’t have to be completely depressing. A couple of months ago, Mum had to undergo a battery of allergy tests, completely changing the way she lives her life.  Unfortunately, but, I’m sure, not coincidentally, many of the things she’s been told to remove from her diet are the very things I’ve removed after years of trial and error.  The biggies: gluten and beef.

Since I wasn’t quite up to my standard, I instructed her on making those pumpkin cupcakes I do so adore.  Before she arrived, I also whipped up a favourite I perfected last year: pumpkin cheesecake.  (Can you tell it’s autumn, and I’ve gotten a pumpkin from the market?)

My mother was quite like me about pumpkin before I’d tried it.  I remember thinking I hated pumpkin because I didn’t care for a lot of other squashes. I’d never even carved a pumpkin until I was 16.  I got the flu when I was in college, and a friend sent over muffins to cheer me up.  I had no idea what they were.  From a box, she said, and frosting from a can.  Yeah, but what flavour?  It absolutely blew my mind to discover they were pumpkin.

It wasn’t until I moved to Northern Ireland that I started craving pumpkin.  I think it was a response to knowing I wasn’t in America but REALLY starting to feel it.  Unfortunately, pumpkins are only available in the month of October here, so I missed out the first time around for not recognizing my craving soon enough.  Last year, after having lost another piece of my Americanness by marrying a Northern Irish man, I grabbed hold to as many pumpkins as I could, and the pumpkin cheesecake is one of the results.

I didn’t get any beautiful pictures because it was gone that fast.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients:

24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups pureed pumpkin
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1/4 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (separated into 2 halves)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups gluten-free graham cracker or digestive biscuit crumbs
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 stick salted butter, melted

Hardware:
oven
springform pan
flexible spatula
Ruby (or mixer, or strong arms)
mixing bowl (2 if you don’t use a mixer)
wooden spoon
measuring cups and spoons
egg separator (not necessary, but I just got a new one that I adore)

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350°F/175°C.

In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, melted butter, and 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon.  Press the mixture into the bottom of your springform pan.

Using a mixer or your wooden spoon, whip the cream cheese by itself until it gets shinier.  There’s not really a perfect thing to say to look for.  You want it smooth. Add the pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, sugar, remaining cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Mix together until combined.  Add in the flour and vanilla extract.  Make sure everything looks uniform.

Lumps aren’t a good idea.  I made one where I found there was a bit of unmixed cream cheese at the bottom of the bowl; I threw it on the top of the cheesecake, thinking it would all melt in together.  WRONG.  I had white lumps of no flavour in the finished product.  Though, I will admit that I like to leave some of the pumpkin a little chunky, sometimes.  This gives you a cheese with a little extra texture and bit of a fruity bite.  If you don’t like that, don’t do that.  If you’re using canned pumpkin, you don’t have much choice there.

Pour the mixture over the crumb base. Gently tap it on the countertop to remove any big air bubbles.  If you don’t, they will find their ways to the top and create big, burnt, air-filled lumps on the surface.  Bake for 55-60 minutes.  When it is completed, leave it to cool at room temperature for 20 minutes before covering with cling film (or a large plate if it’s more handy) and moving it to the refrigerator for 4 hours.  At this point, remove the sides of the springform and either leave it on the base or put it on a cake stand or plate or whatever you have around.  I don’t like to leave it on the base because, when I slice through the cheesecake, I don’t want to knick the coating of the pan.

When serving, I like to make it look fancy with a light dusting of icing sugar (powdered sugar) or cinnamon . . . or an icing sugar/cinnamon mix! . . . and a dollop of whipped cream on the top.

Give it to someone who doesn’t like pumpkin.