Tag Archives: gluten-free

How to Explain Cooking

20 Sep

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Every year, without fail, the exact same thing happens the first day in Kindergarten:

“Who knows the sound the ‘M’ makes?”
“I do, I do…mmmmmmmmm.” I cringe as 18 surprisingly-loud-considering-their-size 5-year old voices shout at me.
“Wait, wait, wait, friends. You have to raise your hand to answer the question. So let’s try again. What sound does the ‘M’ make?”
Then right on cue: “Mmmmmmmmmmm,” 18 surprisingly-loud-considering-their-size 5-year old voices continue to shout at me all with hands up in the air.

My bad.   Nowhere in my explanation did I state that the kids have to be quiet while raising their hands so I can call on one of them. Kids are so literal. They are also blatantly truthful:

“The reason I’m late is because my mommy had to put her bra in the dryer.” Or, “You aren’t an old lady, but you do have wrinkles.” Or (amidst uncontrollable Friday morning sobbing), “I’m…. so….. tired.”

That last one I could relate to perfectly, and almost started sobbing myself out of sympathy and understanding. However, I’m happy to report that after five weeks into the school year, we are raising our hands to answer questions, and continuing to learn – together.

Having spent hours upon hours of advanced collegiate learning about writing, expression, and both written and verbal communication, as well as hours upon hours of putting those skills to use, the hands raising situation is a perfect example of how the lack of such a small detail can simply mess up everything.

Cooking is the same way. I have a good friend, Laura – and no, names have not been changed to hide identity – Laura asked that I specifically refer to her by name. She said being mentioned in my blog would make her famous (while I don’t think Laura knows that I only have 48 subscribers, I love the sentiment!). Laura has a hard time with the culinary arts, and frankly, like most who struggle in the kitchen, she dislikes the act of cooking. So over the past couple of years, I have tried to help her out by showing her easy cooking tricks, making her meals to introduce food she thought she didn’t enjoy, and provided recipes for potlucks and such. While most every time I’ve received an OMG-happy type phone call or text about the food, there have been a couple like this:

“So how did the lemon and lavender cocktail turn out?”
“Well,” uh-oh. The extended “well” is never a good sign. “The recipe said the word ‘syrup.’”
“Yes, the directions said to boil the water, sugar, lavender and lemon to make a simple syrup.”
“Yeah. I don’t know what that is. I read ‘syrup.’”
“So?” (Cue blonde moment; I had no idea where she was going with this, but I think most people probably would have.)
“I added syrup.”
“Syrup?”
“Yes.”
“Like, maple?”
“Aunt Jemima, baby.”
“But the directions didn’t say to add maple syrup!”
“But the directions SAID syrup!”

My bad, again.

I think it happens quite often when the inside thought doesn’t match the outside output. Which, in turn, always creates a learning experience. For Laura, she learned what a simple syrup is, and to only put in a recipe specifically what is on the ingredient list. I learned that if I’m going to use a cooking phrase, I might want to explain it as well.

Friday night’s meal reminded me of Laura, as she was adamant about telling me how she hated squash – that was until she had a spaghetti squash salad at my house. Prior to the meal, I was standing in line at the grocery store, and a woman asked me about the spaghetti squash I was buying and how to cook it. I explained the “oh it’s simple” way of cooking it flesh-side down to steam it up before turning it over to roast, and received a blank stare. The woman did not know what the flesh of the squash was. A necessary key detail!

IMG_2539So for Laura, for the lady at the store, and for all the times I’ve tried to explain something that was oh-so-obvious in (only) my brain, here’s my simplest, easiest, go-to, gluten-free, veggie-loaded meal that will leave even the worst cook feeling proud and satisfied: Roasted Spaghetti Squash. It’s perfect for this beautiful start to the autumnal season, and smells so yummy while cooking.

Roasting is high-heat cooking, usually in an oven. To roast a spaghetti squash, first preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and then prep the squash by cutting it in half vertically. A strong knife, like a 6-8 inch chef’s knife will work best. The inside will have seeds and pulp like a pumpkin. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds and pulp and discard. The inside of the squash is the flesh, beautiful and yellow, and season the flesh with 2 tbsp of olive oil and ½ tsp of salt for each side. Place the squash halves open side down on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Then, using kitchen tongs, turn over the squash halves so the open side is facing up. Continue to roast the squash for about 20-25 minutes, or until the flesh of the squash is tender enough to be pricked easily with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool until able to handle. Then, holding the squash with one hand and a fork in the other, scrape the spaghetti squash starting at the top and pulling the fork down. The flesh will pull off in a noodle-like form, and voila! Roasted Spaghetti Squash!

From here, the options are endless for serving the squash:

* melt a stick of butter, whisk in lemon juice from one lemon, and add thyme leaves in a pan and pour over the squash for an easy side dish.
* shave fresh parmesan and crack fresh pepper over the squash and mix with arugula, basil, and dried cranberries for a tasty salad.
* mix with a favorite tomato sauce for a faux-spaghetti dish.
* add it to a turkey sandwich for a sweet, Thanksgiving-y taste.
* stir into a favorite curry sauce and serve over cooked lentils for an exotic meal.
* mix in some crunchy bacon, fry up an egg to top, and enjoy a healthy carbonara alternative.

For my, eh-em, many readers out there that will inevitably make Laura famous, I have taken these cooking lessons to heart, and have started to learn how to talk about cooking more specifically. After all, the last thing we need is any more kitchen mishaps when cooking can be so much fun and so rewarding. So please, try the squash, and let me know how it turned out!

Enjoy!

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Clean Up, Aisle 14

21 Nov

Last year at this time, I was blogging 2-3 times a week, happily writing and experimenting with my Turkey Day Trials, and prepping for the best holiday of the year.  It was my first Thanksgiving cooking, and my parents were coming up to visit – everything had to be perfect.  This year, everything still must be perfect, but I’ve moved up a level in the video game of life, causing more hurdles to jump over and extra-point challenges to face.

Rob and I see each other almost every day.  But our jobs, while enriching and rewarding, have brought us to a new intensity in limited interaction.  Having just entered the Aircraft Commander syllabus, Rob is working even harder and studying whenever possible.  My job leaves me, more often than not, wanting to crash out on the couch saving any laundry or other household chores for “another” day.  We have been busy with bittersweet traveling (going to North Carolina for Rob’s uncle’s funeral; sad occasion, but nice seeing lots of family), busy with friends (Meghan and Daniel’s trip up from Irvine was a blast!), and busy being stressed over Oregon’s missed field goal to lose a should-have-won game against USC (urgh).  We’ve had some,well, busy times, but I’m certainly not complaining – Rob and I live a very full life.  But it all kind of caught up with me yesterday.

In my house growing up, Thanksgiving was the biggest holiday we celebrated.  We ate, we watched the Macy’s Parade, we ate, we watched the Dog Show, we ate, we watched my mom squeal as my dad de-innarded the turkey, and we ate some more.  Last year was pretty much the same, except I was the one de-innarding the turkey, and Rob was the one running after me with 409 to disinfect any poultry germs.  But while last year I had time and ability to experiment with pumpkin pie, taste-test three different stuffings, and concoct the best turkey to herb butter ratio, this year has been a bit different.

Yesterday, Rob and I went to the grocery store to pick up the final fixins for this year’s meal.  We had returned the night prior from the UofO/USC football game feeling drained and exhausted from the expended adrenaline, lack of body warmth, and long drive.  I had a list – no, the list – of Thanksgiving necessities (one year, my mom forgot the black olives.  My dad still talks about it).  We were walking up and down the aisles picking up our loot, when, all of a sudden, all of the to-dos and lack of Thanksgiving preparation that I had been keeping on the back burner, running at a gentle rolling simmer, came rushing to the forefront of my brain reminding me that the BEST day of the year was only 4 days away.  And I had not prepped at all.

I stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Rob asked.

“I…. I….”  the panic levels were audibly rising.

“What?” his concern was obvious.

“Holy Crap I didn’t get to do my turkey trials this year!  There’s so much to do!  This is the best day of the year and I’m not enjoying it the way I should!  And I don’t remember which kind of stuffing I’m supposed to buy!” the verbal vom came out at, what I imagine, was faster and a few pitches higher than normal.  Rob could see it starting.  I was loosing it.

The tears started flowing.  With a mixture of exhaustion, stress, and downright immaturity, my shoulders started to methodically shake.  Rob took me in his arms and gave me his best bear hug.  After including a couple of “it’s alrights” and “shhs,” to ease my “but I don’t even have a dessert!” fears, he broke me of my breaking point like only he could.  Right there between the canned pumpkin and the Shake ‘N Bake, with his quick New England wit he exclaimed, “Clean up on Aisle 14!”

Well, even with all of my grocery store blubbering, it turns out I did get to have a turkey trial this year, even if it wasn’t a planned dish for my family’s Thanksgiving feast.  A friend requested a minimal chopping, gluten-free stuffing to enjoy with her family this year.  Since I often have secret love-affairs with large amounts of gluten when Rob is on duty, I took this as a challenge.  I researched; most gluten free recipes require cubes of gluten-free bread, a food that is difficult to find and can stereotypically be dry, dense, and tasteless.  So I improvised and came up with a “crumble” of sorts using corn meal and almond meal.  The dish had the stuffing-like texture, and the flavors of Thanksgiving were all incorporated.

I called my mom from the grocery store, still sniffling from my “incident” back in aisle 14, confirming the correct stuffing for our dinner (during which time she genuinely asked me if I was 1) okay, and 2) a mental – got to love the east coast mommy!).  So needless to say, despite its tastiness, we will be sticking to tradition and not be having a gluten-free stuffing for our holiday.  But hopefully my friend and her family will, and enjoy the flavors, and the holiday, without scary gluten allergies.

Happy Thanksgiving!

No-Chop Gluten-Free Stuffing (serves 6-8)

  • 1 leek
  • 1 large apple
  • ½ medium sized red onion
  • 3 celery ribs
  • 2 yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • 1 ½ c cornmeal, medium grain
  • ¾ c almond meal
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 3 sprigs fresh sage
  • s&p
  • olive oil for drizzling

*** Special equipment needed: Food Processor

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and grease a square baking dish with butter.

Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a large sauté pan.  Chop the leek, apple, onion, celery, and potatoes into very large dices (about 2 inches each).  Toss into the food processor.  Pulse 3-4 times; just enough so the veggies are chopped up, but NOT pureed.  Pour the veg into the sauté pan, and season with s&p to taste.  Sprinkle in the thyme leaves and sauté until the veg has softened, but not browned.  Add white wine and simmer for a few minutes, then turn the heat to low.

Change the blade in the food processor to the dough blade.  Add in the cornmeal, almond meal, butter (broken up with your fingers), rosemary, and sage.  Season with a sprinkle of s&p.  Pulse until the mixture comes together like damp, grainy sand.

Mix ¾ of the cornmeal mixture with the vegetable mixture, and pour into the baking dish.  Using a spatula or the back of a large spoon, even out the mixture.  Sprinkle the rest of the cornmeal mixture on top, and drizzle olive oil over the top (to help with browning).

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is crusty, and the inside has cooked all the way through.

Enjoy!

The view from our bedroom window.

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