Saturday, September 27, 2014

Best Gluten Free Birthday Cake Ever -- Giant Oreo

For my birthday last year, my husband baked an amazing cake. He bought chocolate cake mix, ingredients for a cheesecake, and combined the two into this magical ginormous Oreo.

 Yes, it tasted every bit as delicious as it looks. Simply buy any chocolate cake mix, and bake it according to instructions. Cut it in half lengthwise when it's cooled down. Using the same size pan, make a cheesecake with no crust (you may need to really grease the bottom so that it doesn't stick). Stick it in the middle, and you get this sheer awesomeness.
Don't have time to bake a cheesecake? Even Cool Whip would go well here, or ready-made cheesecake mix. You could get creative and add a layer of chocolate chips, or crumbled gluten-free Oreos. Or add a caramel drizzle on top! Yum. My husband is the best.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gluten Free Review: Pica Pica Maize Kitchen in San Francisco -- Must Do for Celiacs

I find it difficult to travel, thanks to my debilitating celiac disease. The last thing I want to happen is to be in a strange city and suddenly black out and go into painful convulsions because I got contaminated by gluten. Recently, I traveled to San Francisco for a friend's wedding (which, p.s., was full of gluten free options and amazing, so thanks for that, Pat and Molly). I knew that I needed to do a ton of research on gluten free options before I left.

Most people have said to me "why would you need to do that? It's San Francisco, the land of gluten free trendiness!" Yes, this is true. However, because most places are catering to those who are gluten free out of sensitivity or trendy fad diet, they're not equipped or trained in dealing with severe allergies or celiac disease. This makes me very nervous when traveling -- it's a scary prospect to go to a restaurant that assures you it can handle gluten free but doesn't wash the pans or change their gloves. So I needed to make sure that I was safe.

I discovered that there was a restaurant that didn't even have regular flour or wheat in its kitchen -- Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, located in the Mission district. An authentic Venezuelan restaurant, it keeps only masa and corn flour on hand. The restaurant is completely gluten free, though not for the sake of celiacs. It does it for the sake of authenticity, which means the chefs are really intent on making sure the food is delicious. And they achieve this.

We went straight to Pica Pica from the airport, and we were on a plane for 7 hours, so we were starving. They had been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and I was intent on trying it. I also love Venezuelan food, as does my husband, so we knew this was a must-do while in San Francisco.

The menu is cheap, and the portions are big. This is the kind of place where you order at the counter, then they bring it to you, so it can be hard to get a table. Over the course of three days, we went back twice and tried everything on their menu.

My favorite was the pulled pork pernil on the white arepa. It had this spicy aioli that burned just right, plus very tender pulled pork. They also had extra sauce in squeeze bottles at the table, in case you wanted more sauce love. The arepas are freshly made, so they crumbled perfectly and also held up to the filling. Most arepas I've had have been fork dishes, but this was something you could pick up with your hands and eat.

The cachapas and sweet yellow arepas had the perfect balance of sweetness without being cloying. We had the beef pabillon cachapa and it was the perfect vehicle for the shredded beef and queso fresco. Everything else was just perfect -- the yucca fries, the nachos, the desserts (beignets!!). Look at this photo! Yes, this is professional photography from the restaurant, but it really did look like that when it arrived at our table.

Like I said, we went back twice. We tried everything and were blown away by the quality of the food and the prices. If you are in the San Francisco area and need a place to eat, run, don't walk, here. This is not just for celiacs -- this goes for anyone who just likes delicious food.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gluten Free at Yak and Yeti in Disney's Animal Kingdom

I love all things Disney, and I've tried to keep up on blogging about everything I've eaten there. The problem is that it would require me to take photos of my food, and I simply refuse to be that tourist who takes a photo of everything she eats. Also, I usually end up digging in before I remember that I should be taking a photo for my blog. But I'll do my best to relay the information and help other celiacs feel comfortable about the menu choices in Disney World.

Yak and Yeti is a beautiful Nepalese inspired restaurant located in the Asia section (makes sense, right?) of Animal Kingdom. Though the outside looks like a reject gingerbread house, the inside is warm and inviting with authentic Nepalese d├ęcor.

I've now eaten here three times since being diagnosed with celiac, and it has never failed me. This is a unique experience in that the restaurant itself is NOT owned by Disney -- however, they are just as strict and careful about allergies. You still meet with the chef, they still go over all of your options and are very accommodating. The only difference is that the food doesn't come out with a little flag that says "allergy" on it. 

The Yak and Yeti menu is a generic Asian menu. I grew up Chinese, so this is nothing particularly authentic or edgy in its flavors. As would be expected, everything fried carries the risk of cross contamination. But they carry gluten-free soy sauce, so anything saucy is pretty much safe (except for the wheat noodle dishes).

The only safe appetizer was the lettuce cups. I was disappointed when I heard this, because I normally consider lettuce cups to be super bland and boring. But these were delicious! The chicken was well-seasoned, and I found myself licking my fingers after. The only thing is that if you're on the dining plan, this counts as two appetizers because it's meant for two. 

The star of the menu is the Malaysian Seafood Curry, which is completely gluten free and safe. I dream about this curry. I have searched (in vain) for a similar product in the Boston area, and have yet to find anything that is quite as tasty.

The sauce is coconutty and creamy but not overly rich. It's tangy and sweet and slightly spicy, and there's a ton of seafood in here -- scallops, fish, clams, shrimp, and mussels. Everything is perfectly cooked and tender, and the squeeze of lime adds a mouth puckering note that is so pleasing. This is Asian comfort food at its best. Most people would crave mac 'n cheese or pizza for comfort food, but I dream of white rice soaked in this sauce as my comfort food. If you love spice, you can add sriracha, which blends beautifully in this sauce. There are also veggies in here -- zucchini and tomatoes to round out the dish. It's a satisfying dish that keeps me going back to Yak and Yeti every single time that I visit Disney.

This is my thumbs up review of the dish, plus the sriracha bottle in full display.

There aren't a ton of dessert options aside from the sorbet, but honestly, I am always so full and the seafood curry is so satisfying that a decadent dessert would be overkill. My husband loves the mango pie (clearly not gluten free).

As far as gluten-free restaurants go, yes, this is not the best option in all of Disney. The menu isn't that expansive, and they don't have gluten-free bread or anything. But the dishes that they do have are so well-executed that this is high on my list of must-do's for every Disney trip. If you are looking for a place to eat in Animal Kingdom, this is it, especially if you are on the dining plan.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Twist Bakery and Cafe: Dinner and Dessert

I know I've talked about Twist before, but it's so good that it warrants several blog posts. Today, my friend Steve is coming over, and we're going to eat lots of food, which is sort of our thing. Last night, my husband and I stopped at Twist to get dinner and treats.

It's located in Millis, MA, just a stone's throw from Boston. It looks rather unassuming, wedged in between a Hallmark and a Chinese place in a plaza, but this is not a place that you want to pass up. We stop in as often as we can, and when we go, we get everything. Literally.

I wish I had taken pictures of our sandwiches, but quite frankly, I refuse to be THAT guy who holds up the meal because he/she wants to take photos of the food and post them on Instagram. Especially in a restaurant setting. Also, I was hungry and was not interested in taking precious seconds to take pictures of the food. But I got the hot roast beef sandwich with Swiss cheese (I am lactose intolerant and need to stick to lactose-free cheeses), and Brian got the Cuban sandwich. The hot roast beef is magic on two slices of bread.. hot and melty with sweet peppers and onions. The bread itself is so good -- they bake it all on premises. I also love their vinaigrette on their salad, tangy and sweet but you can still taste the olive oil.

We also got fries on the side. Hot and crispy, they're baked instead of fried. I overheard the server explaining to someone else that they blanch the fries, then leave them in the fridge to let the starch develop. Then, every time someone orders them, they're tossed in olive oil with salt and rosemary and put into an oven at 500 degrees. They were fantastic! And at only $2, a total steal.

For dessert, we had mini cinnamon buns ($1 each). I've been craving cinnamon buns ever since our trip to IKEA (how they manage to permeate the entire store with that smell is remarkable), and the frozen Udi's ones that I got last week just don't cut it. They're super dry and don't even have white icing. But the ones from Twist are moist and chewy, exactly what you want in a cinnamon bun.

My favorite thing about Twist is that it's an entirely gluten-free environment, and they are also very conscious of other food allergies. Anything with dairy or egg is clearly marked, and they are a peanut and tree nut free zone. They even mark items with coconut and soy, and offer coconut and soy milk with their coffee.

Here are the magnificent desserts that we picked up:

clockwise from top left: Chocolate chip whoopie pie, lemon bar, chocolate chip scone, oatmeal glazed cookie, lemon pound cake, and lemon truffle in the center. The lemon truffle was not dairy free, but the others were.

My only complaint about Twist is the hours. They're true bakery hours, so they tend to close around 5 pm. This summer, they opened late on Fridays and Saturdays (until 8) and are planning to revert back to their regular hours. This breaks my heart and makes me sad. I love that Brian and I can go out for dinner and have a date like real people. Rumor has it that they will continue to stay open late on one weekend night, so fingers crossed.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Immaculate Gluten Free and Dairy Free Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I consider myself to be a pretty decent cook. I'm no chef, but I am pretty adept in the kitchen and I know a lot about different techniques and replacements. I am the world's worst baker. Not in the sense that I'm terrible at it, but that I hate it because I can't taste while it's cooking. I'm a control freak and the fact that I can't control its progress drives me bonkers. I'm also not the biggest fan of following recipes -- who are you to tell me what to do, recipe?

So basically, I appreciate anything that makes baking easier on me. I am all about slice and bake, or break and bake. I'm not going to make a better cookie than Pillsbury, so why try? But alas, those are not exactly safe for me to eat.

Then I discovered Immaculate brand cookies. They're a little more expensive than the usual break and bake cookies (at $4.99 a pack at my Stop and Shop), but they're gluten free AND dairy free. This has been particularly useful when it comes to baking for work, because one of my coworkers is very lactose intolerant, and I am also lactose intolerant.

They are gooey, chewy, and taste just like the real thing. You will not be disappointed in these. My only recommendation is to make sure you flatten the block of dough with the heel of your hand (you might need to put a little oomph into this) a little. Otherwise, they bake a little tall and are too gooey in the middle. But these are really fantastic. I would love to use these to make ice cream sandwiches.

Five stars!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Gluten Free Quinoa with Spinach Pesto

Quinoa is one of those superfoods that everyone raves about, but many people are afraid to try it. They shouldn't be! It's delicious, and yes, it's vogue, but it's an ancient food that's been around for a really long time. It's similar to couscous, but with a heftier mouthfeel (heh heh). It can be a little bland on its own, so this (as well as my gluten-free quinoa "mac" 'n cheese) is a good introduction to this trendy South American staple.

This is a great light dish that can serve as the main meal or as a side dish. It can be served warm or cold, but I love it cold as a pasta salad alternative. The quinoa is packed with protein, and the spinach adds fiber plus a whole ton of nutrients like calcium and folate. You can also customize the pesto and add other vegetables to round out the flavors, or keep it simple. This pesto can be used on pasta or on top of meats, too.

2 cups quinoa
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 6-oz bag of baby spinach
1/4 cup olive oil
the juice of one lemon
1 cup carrots
2 cloves garlic, whole
6 basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste

I use a rice cooker to make my quinoa. Rinse the quinoa in a sieve, then dump it into the rice cooker. Add the broth, a dash of salt, and the garlic cloves. Push the button and sit back and relax. (This can be done ahead of time or the night before). Once it's done, scoop into a big mixing bowl (preferably metal) and let sit in the fridge.

In a food processor, add the baby spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, and carrots. Pulse until blended, then add the basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add tomatoes at this point, if you'd like. If the consistency is not to your liking, you can add more spinach to thicken or lemon juice to thin it out.

Once the quinoa is completely cooled, you can mix in the pesto. You want to make sure it is completely cool or else the pesto can turn brown, and we're all about eating brightly colored pretty things. Once it is mixed completely, you can top with shavings of parmesan cheese. Whether you serve it warm or cold, this is a crowd-pleasing dish that travels well.

This pairs really nicely with a delicious medium-rare steak, or a chicken breast. You can get creative with your mix-ins, like tomatoes as I previously mentioned, or go Mediterranean and add sun-dried tomatoes and olives.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Breakfast Tacos with Steak and Eggs

I often have a hard time figuring out how to reuse leftovers. I struggle especially with steak or other red meat, as I like it medium rare and reheating it ends up cooking it beyond that.

While at home last week, my mom made a delicious roast and sent me home with lots of leftovers. I also made a stop at Watch Hill Farms, a local farm with a stand at the end of my parents' street. I picked up farm fresh eggs picked that morning, plus some gorgeous tomatoes.

So when it came time to figure out how to put all of these items together, all I could think was some sort of steak and eggs. I took corn tortillas and sprinkled them with cheddar cheese.

I soft scrambled two eggs in a cast iron skillet, and then turned off the stove. I popped the tortillas in the microwave for 30 seconds (note: I have a very weak microwave), then topped them with the eggs.
I sliced the cold leftover roast on a bias and put a few slivers on each taco. These were topped with the fresh tomatoes, slices of avocado, grated carrots, and cilantro. With a squeeze of lime over each taco, they were ready to go and very delicious! The flavors were fresh, bright, and perfect on a hot summer's day.