Thursday, October 25, 2012

Roasted Grape Risotto with Adobo-Paprika Chicken

Ever since I've seen the commercial on the Food Network for it, I've been intrigued by the Roasted Grape Risotto recipe. However, the one I found on the internet calls for super expensive gooey bad-for-you cheese and a crazy amount of butter. I love butter and all, but risotto is rich enough! So I've tweaked the recipe and this is what I came up with:

5 chicken thighs
Adobo salt (I use Goya brand)

Roasted grapes:
half a bag of grapes
olive oil

3 cups of stock
1 cup of risotto
1/4 cup of good white wine
white balsamic vinegar infused with pear
parmesan cheese
1 big shallot, finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tbsp of Smart Balance lactose free Omega 3 spread (or butter)

I took the skin off of the chicken thighs, and rubbed the thighs in generous amounts of paprika and adobo salt, then let sit for two hours. Preheat the oven to 400. I put the skin in a low heat pan with foil-wrapped bricks on top to cook the fat out. The result is a crispy skin with most of the fat cooked out into the pan, and the skin makes an excellent appetizer when dusted with bacon salt -- reserve 2 tbsp of the fat, toss about half of what's left, and then stir in some canola oil. Once the oil is hot (it doesn't take long), add the chicken thighs for about 2-3 mins on each side, or until browned. Put the whole pan in the oven when you start the risotto -- the amount of time it takes to make the risotto is about how long the thighs should be in the oven. .

I started off by roasting the grapes -- we cut the giant globe grapes in half to get the seeds out, then tossed in a drizzle of olive oil. I sprinkled with salt and a dusting of thyme, then popped in the convection toaster oven at 400 for about 8 minutes. I then moved the rack to the top rack near the broiler and let broil for a minute so that the skins browned slightly.

Put the reserved chicken fat in another pan, with a little canola or olive oil on medium high heat. Toss the shallot in, then add the risotto and salt and pepper to taste. Toast up the risotto in this mixture, and when it starts to stick to the pan, deglaze with half of the wine. After the wine cooks down, add the rest. While doing all of this, the chicken broth should be heating. I use a glass measuring cup, and I microwave the broth for time purposes. Stir the risotto while slowly adding the broth over time. Once all of the broth is absorbed, the rice should be starting to look like a risotto. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir well. Add as much cheese as desired (I used three 1-inch cubes grated up), then the lemon zest. Mix until the risotto has a slight bite but is soft and tender. At this point, the chicken thighs will be done. Take them out and let them rest.

Add the grapes and stir. Add the juice in, and remove from heat when risotto is soft all the way through. Finish with the SmartBalance spread and give it a final stir. Serve chicken on top of the risotto, and enjoy!*

*I wish I had taken pictures, but my husband and I were too hungry and I didn't think about it. But it was delicious!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tusker House Restaurant: Gluten Free Buffets DO Exist!

The Animal Kingdom theme park is not an easy place to eat. There aren't many sit downs (just Tusker House and Yak & Yeti, which I will write about on a later date), and the quick service places are all fairly standard. The Tusker House, however, has always been one of my favorite places to eat in all of Disney. The menu is interesting and different and as far as buffets go, it's the best one. For those who are not gluten-free, TRY THE CHOCOLATE MANGO BREAD. I cannot emphasize enough how delicious this fresh baked bread is, smeared with butter. I miss it very, very much. Here is the menu, courtesy of

Lunch Buffet - Appetizers: Spicy South African preserves, Tabbouleh, Hummus and Baba Ghanoush, Endive/Apple/Walnut salad, Caesar salad, Mixed Greens salad, Tomato & Cucumber salad, Sliced Turkey/Ham/Cheese, Tunisian Couscous salad, Green bean & onion salad, Curried rice salad and Fresh fruit. Vegetarian Table: Marrakesh couscous, Vegetable samosas, Spiced Tandoori Tofu, Jollaf rice, and Pearl couscous with sweet basil essence. Kids Selections: PB&J sandwich, Corn dog nuggets, Mac & Cheese, Corn medley, Chicken Drumsticks, Green beans, and Mashed potatoes. Adult Selections: Salmon filet, Root veggies, Seafood stew, Orzo pasta, green bean medley, Rotisserie chicken, potato wedges, mashed potatoes, Carved top sirloin and pork loin, Cape Malay curry chicken, and Basmati rice with almonds. Dessert Selections: Fruit cobbler, Warm banana-cinnamon bread pudding with vanilla sauce, and assorted pastries. Prices vary 15.00-35.99  *

Of this, there are obviously some dishes I couldn't have. The chef came out to our table and walked me through the entire buffet, pointing out what was safe and what wasn't. He also said that if I was worried about cross-contamination (which I was), he would bring me out a plate of whatever I wanted. I picked out a few items and waited at my seat.

Here's what I tried:
Spicy South African preserves
Endive/apple/walnut salad
Tomato and cucumber salad
Mashed potatoes
Salmon filet
Root veggies in turmeric
Rotisserie chicken
Coffee BBQ pork loin
Top sirloin
Basmati rice with almonds

There was more I could've sampled, but this was a lunch and I wasn't able to consume much more than this. The preserved fruit was absolutely out of this world, especially when smeared on the super tender pork loin. The salads were pretty standard, as were the mashed potatoes, but the rice with the salmon filet was incredible. I don't normally love cooked salmon, as I find most places overcook it (especially at a buffet), but it was tender and moist with this amazing tomato chutney on top. I also loved the root veggies in turmeric, they reminded me of my favorite vegetarian dish at Ethiopian restaurants. The rotisserie chicken was surprisingly complex, doused in all sorts of herbs and garlic. I definitely did not feel like I missed out on anything, even with my celiac.

Dessert was a little more complicated. As you can see from the menu, everything has gluten. The chef offered to make me a fruit plate, or a sorbet dessert (I quickly got sick of sorbet after this trip though), and he said he'd also make a cookie plate for me. I opted for the cookie plate, which was full of familiar items, like Enjoy Life chocolate chip cookies. There was also a handful of berries on there. The OMG... It's Gluten Free gluten-free brownie was one of the grossest things I've ever eaten.. I actually spit out the bite as soon as I took it, much to the chagrin of the family sitting next to us. It was prepackaged and solid as a rock, but I can't fault Disney for stocking a crappy brand of gluten-free brownies. Enjoy Life is awesome, so that cookie was great. And after the lunch I just ate, a big dessert was not in the cards.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

On a whim, I decided to make chocolate chip cookies. Prior to being diagnosed with celiac, I was not a baker. Now, I'm definitely not a baker. Baking from scratch is a totally foreign concept to me, I prefer cooking. So I took a trip to the store and picked up some Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix (from the regular baking aisle) for $4.99.

All that I needed was an egg, a stick of softened butter, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I combined the wet ingredients first, then added in the cookie mix. The box warned that the dough would be "crumbly"... boy, was that an understatement. It looked like damp sand! This was definitely not the cookie dough of my childhood where I could sneak spoonfuls. This is not raw cookie dough that you can eat.

The oven was preheated to 350, and I tried my best to make balls out of the moist sand-like "dough." It actually shaped fairly well, and I popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. The box suggested 8-11 minutes for small cookies and 12-15 for larger, but my medium sized cookies took probably 20 minutes to bake.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The cookies were moist and buttery, and though a little on the gritty side in terms of an aftertaste (as all gluten free cookies are from the rice flour), I thought they were delicious. Are these as good as the Nestle pre-made dough cookies? No. But for gluten-free, these are a godsend -- especially since this is easily found in any grocery store.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Disney's Pop Century: What Resort Eating Means When You're Gluten Free

I've been to Disney many times and I've stayed in a wide range of places, from value to deluxe. After years of trying out the different resorts, I've come to the conclusion that Pop Century, a value resort, is my favorite place to stay. Location-wise, it's very central to all of the parks, and transportation-wise, it has its own bus system. The theme is a lot of fun (who doesn't love a ginormous Big Wheel?) and I love the pop culture references from the last 60 years. The only downside is the sprawl of the resort, but if you book a preferred room, you'll be placed close to the main transportation center. (The other downside was that they had a time capsule of technology that's super outdated... I laughed at the original Gameboy, the 8 tracks, the Apple IIc... and stopped laughing when I realized they included the tape recorder that I still use. Even the same make and model.)

I was a little worried about trying to get gluten-free at a value resort. The moderate and deluxe resorts have sit-down restaurants, while the value resorts only offer cafeteria-style quick service. The food is also not spectacular at the quick service-style restaurants -- it's fairly standard fare, like burgers and hot dogs and pasta. They generally offer a salmon or chicken special with sides like mashed potatoes and vegetables.

This also doesn't really mean much to me, because when I go to Disney, I only ever eat breakfast at the resorts. Lunch and dinner are going to be spent at one of the million amazing restaurants at the parks and deluxe resorts. On this particular trip, we missed our lunch reservation upon arrival and were forced to eat lunch at Pop Century.

We arrived at the cafeteria, and thanks to some Internet research, I knew to ask for the chef. I went to the nearest employee and asked for the chef for a food allergy, and moments later, Karen appeared. She walked me through station by station (there are four in total at Pop Century, including a pasta station and a grille), and pointed out everything I could eat and more importantly, everything she could adjust for me to be gluten-free. Her exact words? "I will make you anything you want." She rattled off a list of the things she can do with the items she had in the kitchen, including pastas, burgers, chicken fingers, pizza.. my head started spinning with all of the options. She also told me that when I came back for breakfast, she could do gluten-free pancakes, gluten-free waffles, gluten-free muffins, you name it.

She also said that in the morning, the lines at each station are crazy. For people with allergies, do not bother waiting in line. Karen told me to simply grab a manager/employee, tell them I had an allergy, and wait by the kitchen door for a chef to come out. It's quicker than waiting in line to tell them to get the chef.

I asked her for a bacon cheeseburger with fries. REAL French fries!! They have a dedicated fryer for gluten allergies. She gave me one of those flashing buzzer thingies, told me to go ahead and pay, and then wait for my food. Because my husband could simply walk up and grab a meal, his food was obviously ready before mine, as she had to make it fresh. But it also meant that instead of having a burger that had been sitting there for half an hour, I had a fresh one. I also had a fruit bar for dessert -- I could have had a number of options, including gluten-free brownies and fruit cups.

My food took probably 10-15 minutes in total. I'm betting that during a rush, it would take longer, but I have no problem waiting longer for food if it means I don't get sick. My burger was great, and I forgot how delicious fresh crispy fries are. This clearly was not the best burger and fries I've ever had in my life, but for a cafeteria-style restaurant, it was very tasty. It was a good omen of things to come!

This was also the beginning of my constant waiting for food. I noticed that whenever I ordered anywhere with an allergy, my food took much longer than other tables around us. While at Tutto Italia in Epcot (more on that amazing meal later), the server explained that whenever they get an allergy request, the kitchen washes all of its pans and utensils before beginning to cook that dish, which is why my food took so much longer. Honestly, I'm on vacation. I'm in no rush. What do I care if my food takes an extra 10-15 minutes? If it's taking longer because they're trying to keep me safe, I really can't complain. So if you are going to Disney with a food allergy, expect your food to take a little longer, but be grateful that it's for your own good.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Going Gluten-Free at Disney Food and Wine 2012

Disney was amazing. I have a number of posts that will come over the next few weeks because we ate so many meals there, but I wanted to start off with a review of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities. I used this handy guide to get myself through:

The highlights?

1.) Florida's white corn arepa with mangalista pork. Oh. My. Gah. I love arepas as it is -- we often go to a local Venezuelan restaurant and get them. This arepa was stuffed with a tender flavorful pork and fried -- the best part was that Florida's offerings were BOTH gluten free, so the stand was completely uncontaminated.
2.) Australia's grilled lamb chop with mint pesto. The potato crunchies were salt and vinegar flavored, and the vinegar was malt vinegar, so I had to leave those off. But the chop was perfectly cooked and the pesto was to die for.
3.) Florida's shrimp ceviche with the fried plaintain and roasted tomatoes. Spicy and cold, this ceviche was perfect for a hot day.

The protocol appeared to be different for each booth when dealing with a food allergy. At first, the booth workers said every time that I ordered anything, I had to wait until they called the chef and had him come over. The first time this happened, the chef told me to simply ask for the ingredients binder at each stand, and the allergens are listed at the top of the page. At a few stands, this was fine. But a couple of stands insisted on having the chef called each time, and he was always at a different stand, so I had to wait for him. I dealt with a very rude worker at South Africa (of course, I told Guest Relations and they were very apologetic and said they would deal with it) who treated my allergy like a major inconvenience. This was at the soft opening, so I understand that they were still working out the kinks.

Every other stand, however, was wonderful. They treated me with respect and clearly just wanted to make sure I didn't get sick. The binders were very useful, and often, I would check the binder to just make sure I could order anything at all.

Other gluten free items sampled included:
-New Zealand's seared scallop, which was tasty but nothing special
-Singapore's beef rendang, which was very flavorful but a little too spicy for a super hot day
-Australia's shrimp on the barbie, which was excellent