Great Balls of Goodness

Glutinous rice or sticky rice is completely safe to include in a gluten free diet. Don’t let phonetics confuse you! Glutinous rice flour, a derivative of glutinous rice, does not contain proteins (gluten/gliadin) that are harmful to gluten intolerant individuals. Instead, it can serve as a wonderful thickening agent in lieu of wheat flour. Its high starch content helps thicken sauces, and when used in baking, it produces a texture similar to mochi.

There are wonderful things that are made from glutinous rice–such as sweet soup dumplings or “tongyuan,” a popular Chinese dessert. Tongyuans are typically served during the Lunar New Year or Lantern Festival season, and are often made from scratch. But when I crave for a quick way to satiate my sweet tooth, I like to reach for these frozen tongyuans by Laurel’s. They come in a variety of flavors in the frozen foods section of well-stocked Chinese grocery stores, but my favorites are black sesame or peanut filled.20130103-114956.jpg
They are easy to prepare too! Just plop them in boiling water for 5-8 minutes and the sticky balls of goodness are ready to be fished out and served.

20130103-115757.jpgI like to eat mine plain, but it is also popular to add a delicious syrupy soup. 20130103-115126.jpg20130103-115302.jpg
I’ve cut a couple open to showcase the fillings– here we have black sesame on the left, peanut on the right.

I Scream!

Even though Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone, I am so happy to find that Pumpkin Ice Cream is still IN. The holiday season is one of the more difficult times to navigate as a gluten intolerant individual, especially if deliciously dangerous desserts have held a special place in your belly years prior.

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This is why I am so thankful for this gluten-free tub of awesomeness from Trader Joe’s, where indulgence won’t wreak havoc. You get two desserts in one- it really tastes like the best pumpkin pie you could imagine, in ice cream form! Personally, I think Pumpkin ought to become a staple flavor, but then…I’d need spoons permanently strapped to my hands…

The Meaning of Life–According to Siri

I’m getting to know my new personal assistant…and I think I am in love. She is organized, timely, sexy, sassy…good at math AND philosophical…

Question: What is the meaning of life?
Siri’s response with a cup of coffee:

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Siri’s response at happy hour:

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WORD.

A Sweet Summer Pick: Juice and Freeze!

Watermelon is a summertime favorite and is always welcome at any gathering, but finding the perfect one can be tricky. When shopping for a ripe and ready melon, some key features to consider are: color, weight, and shape. Typically, you want to reach for one that has a deep green color because the riper the melon, the darker the green will be. Examine it for a yellow or white spot–this is also known as the “ground spot,” which is the area that the melon used as its bum during growth. A yellow ground spot indicates that the melon is ready to be enjoyed, whereas a white spot indicates that it was picked prematurely, and no spot=no good. If you lift the melon, it should be heavy for its size, which is predictive of how juicy it will be; maybe the best way to tell is to compare it to another of similar size. Also try to avoid deformed watermelons because an odd shape could mean that it had inconsistent growth conditions, ultimately compromising its quality. As for drumming on the melon…if someone could describe this sound test in a comment below, I would be so very appreciative! I’ve never been able to draw a meaningful correlation between the potential of a watermelon and its musical thuds!

Once you’ve picked your perfect watermelon, you can serve it in three different forms at your next summer party!

Cubed
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Here I’ve cubed and served it in its pure form. So simple, and so good!

Juiced
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Then I took some chunks for juicing. Because watermelon is over 90% water, it is a wonderful fruit to juice. If you want to spike it for adult-only festivities, rum, vodka and gin are great options for concocting a gluten free cocktail.

Frozen: (Watermelon Granita pictured with a scoop of homemade Pinkberry)

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Take the remains from the juicing process and freeze it into a granita!

Boil a 1:1 mixture of water and sugar to make a ½ cup of simple syrup.
Combine your simple syrup with about 3 cups of watermelon remains.
Squeeze a ½ lemon or lime into the mixture.
Place your mixture in the freezer.
Fluff your mixture every hour to get the right granita consistency.

Optional: Add a small amount of Triple Sec or Grand Marnier to prevent overfreezing your granita!

Morning Buzz: Summer’s Perfect Cup

Many of us share the common morning ritual of sipping on a cup of coffee to help start our day…and what a great ritual it is! The benefits of coffee are ample—from increasing your rate of metabolism…to enhancing performance and focus, it is no wonder that coffee has become a staple in our society. I mean…there’s more than um…10,000 Starbucks, 6,000 Dunkin Donuts, just over 200 locations of Peet’s, and a countless number of wonderful independent mom and pop cafés!

Because this drink is so deeply ingrained in our culture, the process of brewing coffee is often considered a form of art. There are a variety of techniques and many methods to yield a great cup—traditional dripping, French pressing, stovetop pressurizing are only a few at the tip of the iceberg! With the rising temperatures this season, colder versions of coffee are becoming more popular; if you are trying to save a buck (or four) this summer, I recommend cold-brewing your coffee at home.

Cold brewing coffee is a slower process, where you mix cold water with ground coffee and let it steep in your fridge overnight. Here, I used Adagio’s ingenuiTEA for the process, but you can easily achieve the same results by making the mix in any glass jar and filtering with a regular coffee filter.

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The taste is milder and smoother than a hot cup, and this is because less alkaloids are extracted. This also means that your end product will be less acidic and much easier on the stomach. Cold brewing is an especially good option for people who avoid coffee because of stomach cramps or excessive jitteriness…and if you like this method because of its milder effects, you can still have it hot when the weather cools down! Just use more grounds and less water in the steeping process; end product will be a thicker and stronger coffee syrup, which you can later dilute with hot water.

Wishing you all a fabulous and productive Thursday! Cheers!!!

For the Love of Ice Cream!

Because flour is a great binding agent and an excellent food thickener, it is not uncommon to find gluten lurking in many unsuspected food products…even ice cream! So if you have a serious intolerance, it is always better to speak up and ask for the gluten free menu than to quietly suffer the consequences later.

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I am in love with Ben and Jerry’s gluten free menu because you can’t possibly feel shortchanged with the ample GF options. I also believe that most scoop shops will do half scoops of two different flavors for the decisionally challenged! Among my favorites are Chunky Monkey, Phish Food and Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz! What are yours?

A shout out to my friends in the northern aspects of the country: Free Greek Frozen Yogurt for y’all if you feel like tweeting (@benjerrystruck) and chasing the Ben and Jerry’s truck! For those who are geographically limited, check out my post on home-made frozen yogurt!

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Recipes Worth Sharing: Homemade Pinkberry!

Super Easy Frozen Yogurt

Summer in DC has been brutal, but it can still be sweet. For a quick way to chill out this season, combine a cup of frozen berries and frozen mangos with a scoop of plain Greek yogurt. Pulse  in a food processor until you have the right consistency. Sweeten to taste by adding honey or sugar. Serve and enjoy!!!

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Pressing Juice: A Cucumber Number

Cucumber is an excellent ingredient for a green juice because it is a great way to take potassium, vitamin C and vitamin K in liquid form. It also has high water content, which makes it one of the more satisfying veggies to juice. Compared to other items of similar hue, such as spinach or cilantro, the cucumber is just as green but adds a lot more bulk.

These melon-like-veggies come in many varieties, and can be categorized by their intended use–slicing or pickling. Today I propose that juicing should be a new category. The two cucumbers that should be included are the English and Persian varietals because they are both seedless and more sweet than the run-of-the-mill slicing kind.

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English cucumbers are usually sold unwaxed, but whether a fruit or veggie is waxed or unwaxed shouldn’t negatively influence your decision on its juicing potential. A little wax now and again is harmless. Budget permitting, it is more important to maintain loyalty to organically grown items. The smaller Persian cucumber is one of my favorite cucumbers to eat. It is sweet and has a really nice snap, and who doesn’t like their juice snappy?

At the end of the process, I had a gorgeous glass of green. But I’m sad to report that cucumber juice isn’t great solo. I added a pear to sweeten this drink, making it much more palatable…and if snappy were a taste…this cucumber number with the pear is it: a little sweet, a little bitter, and a lot refreshing.

Voilà, Cucumber Number à la carte:

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Voilà, Cucumber Number avec un poire:

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I siphoned a bit of the pure cucumber juice to incorporate into a salad dressing later, but stay tuned to see what I can do with the remains of the cucumber fiber!

Safety First: How to Handle the Over-Ripe Avocado

Avocados have secured a title among the firmament of great super foods because of its high content in folate, potassium, vitamins E, C and K. It serves as a good antioxidant because it is an excellent source of glutathione, a molecule primarily used by the liver to sop up free radicals. In addition, the buttery fruit is high in monounsaturated fat which helps lower bad LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol—it is too good, and so true.

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Avocados can be had savory or sweet, but is most commonly found in the ever-popular guacamole dip. In preparing the fruit for any purpose, most people slice the fruit in half and approach it with a spoon. I’ve found that the best way to extract the meat is to quarter the avocado and peel the skin away from it like a banana. I do this because an avocado can have bruises or be affected by plant pathogens just under the skin. If you scoop the meat out, it’s harder to assess the quality of the fruit.

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It’s unsightly….but is it still safe to eat?

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According to Christine Bruhn, an avocado expert from UC Davis, cosmetically flawed parts– browning flesh or unsightly patches under the skin–does not mean that the entire avocado needs to be sacrificed. Salvaging the unaffected portions of the avocado is perfectly acceptable practice. Plant pathogens that affect avocados, such as Botryosphaeria and Fusicoccum fungi are generally not known to cause disease in humans. However, if the fruit becomes so overly ripe that the taste morphs toward unfamiliar territory, or is obviously moldy and rotten, you’re better off tossing it. Christine also debunked the widely held belief that if you leave the seed in your guacamole it would keep the dip from browning. She explains that the browning is due to oxidization. Once the fruit has been festively mashed up, the seed doesn’t keep the meat from coming in contact with the air. It’s best to eat all your guacamole in one sitting while it’s fresh, but if you must save it, sealing the dip with plastic wrap (with the plastic making direct contact) may be used for the short-term.

Avocados are a permanent item on my grocery list so that I could incorporate it in my diet daily, but keeping them fresh can be tricky. As a rule of thumb, I only buy the fruit when it is still firm, and I allow them to ripen at home. When they appear ready to consume, storing them in the fridge extends the shelf life for up to a week. Steve Dreistadt, an agricultural expert from the University of California explained that avocados are often imported from various regions of the world; Mexico, Chile, Dominican Republic, and California just to name a few. Generally, these regions take turns in harvesting the fruit so that avocados are available year round. Lucky us!