In case you missed it this is the video of me cooking sweet and sour chicken in my kitchen here at home. If you see this on Sunday 1/21/2018 there is still time to get a free copy of The Gluten Free Good Life from the Kindle Store.
Last year a culinary instructor named Todd Mohr gave a free webinar on how to cook like a chef. It was not what I expected. Instead of talking about all the “secrets” and difficult recipes we think professional chefs know he talked about how home cooks make things too difficult. The focus of his webinar was learning basic techniques, cooking methods and spices then using your own fresh ingredients to create original dishes.
My Rocky Beginnings
When Bob and I first started living gluten free I was scared to death. There were already a number of foods we didn’t eat for health reasons and I was sure there would be nothing left to eat… So I started with stir fry and kept working on figuring out all those difficult gluten free recipes and exotic ingredients. I eventually began to convert my own recipes and realized it really wasn’t that difficult, but I kept collecting recipes trying to find new, different and perfect recipes that met our needs.
Already Heading in the Right Direction
When I heard what Chef Todd had to say I realized I was already heading in that direction. I was already putting together my own ingredients to create new soups and salads. I rotisserie whole chickens and use the meat for various dishes and boil the bones to make stock. Then I realized I had my “magic mixture” which was usually black beans, onion, corn, salsa or canned tomatoes and chili spices and sometimes chicken. This ends up on baked potatoes, gluten free pasta, spaghetti squash, salad greens and most recently with rice rolled into a gluten free wrap for burritos. Sometimes I add rice for the closest thing to a casserole I do now. I like to make a big batch to have on hand.
The Gluten Free Wraps and a Discovery
The gluten free wraps were part of a prize package from Toufayan Bakeries which I won through a drawing at the Gluten Away Online Expo. The first couple of days after the package arrived we enjoyed some wonderful deli style sandwich wraps. I even made a special trip into town for good deli meat, goat cheese and condiments.
Then I started looking for different ideas and went to the Toufayan website where I found the recipe for Chicken and Black Bean Freezer Burritos. When I realized I already had the basics down all I needed to do was think a little outside the box and wrap the stuff up in a tortilla or other flat bread, I felt a little embarrassed. But this was an excellent illustration of Chef Todd’s point just a few days after listening to him.
When I made these I cut eat one in half and wrapped them in plastic wrap then put in a freezer bag. I ended up with two bags of these. Quite a bit of work, but good to have on hand for a snack or meal emergency.
Do you Make Things too Difficult?
Home cooks do make things way too difficult. We try to impress people with our skills or some sort of secret recipe or knowledge that only we have. Add food restrictions such as wheat or dairy to the mix and things can really get crazy. It is easy to panic and wonder what on earth you are going to eat.
Focus on techniques. Review or learn basic cooking methods such as baking, roasting, steaming, sauteing, braising, grilling, stir frying, etc. These I have mentioned can all be done gluten free and dairy free.
Then bring in your own fresh ingredients and seasonings and mix and match to your hearts content. You might also want to play around with sauces and toppings.
The benefit of cooking this way is that you get to choose your own ingredients. I think this is the easiest way to cook for special diets.
All you have to do is get started. It is a different way of thinking about food and cooking than many of us are used to. Take that first step and get started. Don’t be afraid to play a little and get creative. Things will get easier as you go along and you will eventually find yourself thinking, I really made this? This is so good!
What is your secret to cooking good, healthy food?
I know the holidays are over, but there may still be fresh cranberries available in your grocery store. This is a good time to stock up.
The price may be going down. In fact it may already have. If you haven’t already picked up a bag or two or six this is a good time. I have found cranberries priced as low as 2 for $1 after the holidays. Cranberries freeze well. You can just pop the unopened bag in the freezer of put it in a freezer bag. They freeze well so you will have them on hand for later.
They are full of wonderful nutrients. In addition to being fat-free, cholesterol free, gluten free, sodium free and a good source of vitamin C and fiber, they also contain antioxidants and may help prevent urinary tract infections.
There are so many ways to use fresh or frozen cranberries. You can eat them raw, but they are very tart. You can make cranberry sauce, and of course cranberry nut bread, but they may also be used in savory dishes and stews. The great thing about cooking with fresh cranberries is you control the sugar.
Who needs candied yams when there are so many other wonderful ways to prepare sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes are loaded with so many wonderful nutrients it seems a shame to load them up with refined sugar.
So here are a few of my favorite ways to serve sweet taters:
Simple Sweet Potato Soup is a great way to start the holiday meal. Beginning a meal with a light soup makes you less likely to over eat and this just tastes good too. The recipe is available in my e-book Have Yourself a Healthy Little Holiday.
Sweet Potato Oven Fries are good any time, not just at the holidays. Cut a sweet potato into wedges. Coat with a little extra virgin olive oil and spices. I like to use what I call “sweet and heat” with sweet potatoes which is cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Go easy on the cayenne if you’re not used to it. Bake at 400 degrees until they are browned on the outside and fork tender. You will need to turn them over as they bake.
Baked Sweet Potatoes are great plain, with a little butter, sprinkled with a little cinnamon, or I like salsa on mine. Or you can get fancy and make them “twice baked” by scooping out the shell and mashing the pulp with a little milk or juice and putting it back in the shell. Of course you can fancy it up with cheese, nuts, dried fruit — whatever, just try to keep it reasonably healthy.
Orange Spice Sweet Potatoes are my fancy version of mashed sweet potatoes. The recipe is available in my e-book Have Yourself a Healthy Little Holiday.
Sweet Potato Apple Bake begins with layering cooked, sliced sweet potatoes and cored, sliced apples in a baking dish. Pour a mixture of 1/4 cup orange juice and 1 Tablespoon molasses over the top, Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake covered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, until apples are tender. With the sweet taste of sweet potatoes, apples, orange juice and a hint of cinnamon, you won’t miss the marshmallows.
So go out there and enjoy your sweet potatoes, just be careful what other ingredients they associate with. Don’t worry, they can still taste wonderful.
Please feel free to leave your ideas for healthier sweet potatoes in the comments below.
Yes, it’s National Cookie Day, just in time for the holidays. Time to get started or at least start planning your holiday cookie baking. Maybe even time to think about hosting a cookie exchange.
I love cookie exchanges because you can get as simple or fancy with this as you want. The basics are that everyone brings a set number of cookies, the recipe and a container to bring their cookies home in. The cookies are set out on the table and there is sampling, conversation and cookies to take home.
The cookie exchanges I have attended we each brought one dozen cookies and we took one dozen cookies. I don’t know where the six dozen cookies that seems to be common now came from. You could adjust the number to fit the number of participants if you wish. You could also decide on 2 or 3 dozen cookies if you wish, which is an average size for a batch of cookies. We also took enough copies of our recipe for everyone. That’s the basics. Now if you want to provide containers for guests to take their cookies home in or have a craft time and decorate boxes or provide decorative envelopes for people to put the recipes they collect in that is totally up to you.
What I like about this idea is that it can be customized for special dietary needs and would be great for a support group meeting. You can invite all people who are gluten free, dairy free, vegan, allergic to nuts — whatever your need may be.
Try not to get too obsessed with the details. The point of this is to hang out with friends, enjoy a few cookies and recipes, relax and most of all have fun! Group activities are always good at the holidays. You never know who may need a little bit of light in their lives. You could be the one who brings it and not even know.
As the holidays approach many of us will start planning holiday meals. If one of your holiday traditions is spending three days in a “food coma” from overindulging stop and think, is it really worth it? Is it really enough fun, to make yourself sick over?
This year I would like to offer a few alternatives and substitutions that are just as good without all the fat and sugar. Trust me, they may be different but they still taste very good.
Begin your meal with a salad or a light soup. I like to begin with a salad of spring greens, walnuts, dried cranberries and maybe a little goat cheese with a light vinaigrette dressing or a light and easy sweet potato soup made with sweet potatoes and onion cooked in water or veggie broth, with cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper and puree until smooth in the blender. Sometimes we have both.
Cook your turkey in a healthy way. Don’t add extra fat by stuffing the cavity with butter or frying it. Season the bird well and bake in the oven.
Make your own cranberry sauce. If you can boil water, you can do this. You can control what goes into it, including what you use for sweetener.
Forget the green bean casserole and serve lightly steamed fresh green beans. Add some sliced almonds and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Leave the “candy” out of the yams. I like to serve fresh sweet potatoes. There are many ways to do this. First there is baked. You can fancy them up a bit by making them “twice baked” either sweet or savory by what you add to them. You can mash them. You can cook them with apples and spice them up with cinnamon and nutmeg. Follow this link to my recipe for Orange Spice Sweet Potatoes.
Serve a healthy relish tray. This was always included in the holiday meal when I was growing up and is still best part of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for me. Include lots of raw fresh veggies and fruit with a few of your favorite pickles and olives if desired. If you want dip, consider making one without cream cheese or sour cream. This may be done using white beans or mashed cauliflower.
How about ice cream for dessert? I like to serve pumpkin fruit cream made from frozen bananas, pumpkin puree, almond milk, pumpkin pie spices and a wee bit of molasses.