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.

A Quick Gluten Free Lunch: Pepperoni and Cheese Mac

Macaroni and Cheese was and still is one of my favorite dishes, but it is nearly impossible to find a gluten free version on any menu. To satisfy this craving, I made my own and even added a little pepperoni for flare. This is how I did it!
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Ingredients for single serving

1 cup of DeBoles corn* elbow style pasta
1 or 2 slices of Muenster cheese
2 slices of thin pepperoni, squared
¼ tomato, cubed
1 scallion, chopped
1 tablespoon of Greek yogurt
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Add the cup of pasta to boiling water, and allow 7 minutes of cooking time.

2. In your serving bowl, add the pieces of pepperoni, slice of Muenster cheese and teaspoon of Greek yogurt.

3. Once the pasta is finished, drain the excess water and immediately transfer the hot pasta into your bowl. (A little residual liquid actually helps the cheese to become saucier.)

4. Allow the hot pasta to melt the slice of cheese before mixing in the tomato and scallions.

5. Salt and Pepper to taste

6. Bon appetite!

*Rice pasta may be used as a substitute, but I have found that the consistency and texture of corn pasta is closer to that of regular pasta.

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The Life Changing Cookie

It has been quite a while since I’ve had a good cookie. So today I stopped by the grocery store and picked these up without any expectations, only to have my mind blown away!!! Exaggerating? Maybe slightly… But really. I think my opinion on this one will only steer you toward deliciousness.

These chocolate ones are similar to the Keebler’s Fudge Striped cookie, and having them took me back a decade (or more) to my sweet childhood of gluten rich days. Sure, they look a little anemic, but don’t be too quick to judge because the pale looking cookie combined with a chocolate dipped backing made the perfect marriage.

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The vanilla ones are good too, and I will definitely buy them again…but the chocolate ones are a hard act to follow. For store bought gluten free cookies, these make an excellent snack. They are even individually wrapped in pairs for portion control!

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Europe’s #1 gluten free? Yup. Verified by yours truly, the non-European!

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!

The Traveling Gym

Chances are good that you’ve heard your body could use some exercise every day. But for those who are busy globe trotters or regular business travelers, finding time to exercise can be challenging, and a gym may not always be accessible. Although many great workout routines are now more focused on using your own body weight, packing your suitcase with some light equipment may be a good idea if you’re not sure what might meet you at your next destination.

Two of my favorite light-weight pieces are the jump rope and these Gliders.

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The jump rope is a great cardio alternative to the treadmill, and can get your heart rate up pretty quickly. Certainly a rope made of any material could do, but a light-weight plastic one (like the one pictured) may be the best option for your suitcase.

Gliders are round disks that help reduce friction, and are great for doing variations of the mountain climber. To do the basic mountain climber, place each foot on the Gliders, assume the push-up/plank position, and shuffle your feet like you’re scaling the floor by tucking your knee to your chest. This exercise targets the abdominals while building core strength and agility. Although Gliders aren’t completely necessary, they can help you climb faster, making your work out more efficient. This exercise is best on a tiled bathroom floor, since most hotel rooms are carpeted.

And of course don’t forget to stay hydrated and wipe off your sweat!

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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GF Review: Mac Fail.

Please don’t judge…but before taking the gluten free vow, Kraft’s Easy Mac was one of my guilty pleasures. In attempt to find a substitute for the naughty comfort snack, I tried Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar. Although the end product looked similar, the taste was completely off. I also had to modify the recipe to get the right consistency in the sauce (i.e. allow the soupy mess to sit around and coagulate like a giant blood clot) and the texture of the pasta was expectedly distracting. Well, unless I find a better GF option, it’s hasta-la-vista to easy styled macaroni and cheese!

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Worth mention is the biggest joke on the back of the box.

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Mac Face #1= hilarious LIAR. Mac Face #2 = speaks the truth.

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Medical Prescription: Vitamin D

Vitamin D is one of the few vitamins that can be produced in the body, but it can also be absorbed via dietary measures. If your gut is in good condition, foods like salmon, egg yolks, and milk are some great ways to give yourself a dietary boost of this fat soluble vitamin. Alternatively, one of the easiest methods of staving deficiency is to simply kiss the sun….think: human photosynthesis! It works like this: UV rays convert a type of cholesterol that is found in skin into something called Vitamin D3. The D3 form then gets processed further by your liver, then kidneys, into an active form of vitamin D called calcitriol. The most popular role of this vitamin is linked to calcium levels and bone health maintenance. However, less know that vitamin D also plays an important role in taming the immune system, which has likely gone haywire in people who can’t tolerate gluten. For these people, sunlight plus supplements may be the solution.

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Coming from California, getting enough sun was never an issue…because back on the best coast…getting sun just happens. It wasn’t until I started paying attention to the quality of my skin that I realized: no sun + gluten intolerance = zilch Vitamin D. I had to do something about it.

As with all things in life, balance is key. Too much sun invites skin cancer, and although it is rare to have too much vitamin D supplementation, toxic levels can lead to damage of the kidneys. So how do you approach this balancing act of risks and benefits? Before slathering on goops of anti-UV, allow 10-15 minutes for the sun to do its thang so that you don’t have to pop these ginormous pills…but if you do decide to supplement, make sure you aren’t overdoing it, and as always, let your doc in on the plan so that vitamin D levels can be monitored properly!

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Recipes worth Sharing: Wiki Taziki

Juicing can cost a pretty penny. In attempt to make that penny stretch, I decided to take the remains of the cucumber juice (see previous post) and drive its potential toward a beautiful non-runny Taziki sauce.

Taziki is one of my very favorite things to have with most foods because it is so healthy and so delicious. It also instantly transports me back to 2005 when I was hopping from Greek island to Greek island, having this spread with chips, fries, chicken, beef, etc… I think I’m overdue for a return visit! Here’s how you do it:

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Recipe:
1/8 of an onion, chopped finely (you can add more or less)
1 ½ cup of Greek yogurt
1 cup of cucumber remains
2 teaspoons of sesame seeds
Salt-to-taste

1. Combine onion, yogurt, cucumber and sesame seeds in a tupper-ware type container for easy storage.
2. Add salt to taste.
3. Break a plate, 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!