Tag Archives: vegetarian

R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y

Find out what it means to me…over at My Life With Food Allergies, where I just contributed my first post. If you haven’t heard yet, it’s a new website run by Living Without magazine. It features the work of gluten-free and food-allergic writers from around the blogosphere.

My post is about our rights and responsibilities as (reluctant) members of the food-restricted community. Do allergies or gluten sensitivity give us special responsibilities? And is one of those responsibilities to avoid making the rest of the community look bad? I touched on this topic way back when in this post about Dean McDermott, but now I’ve reopened the case. I hope you’ll check it out and share your own opinion on the matter.

While you’re there, take a peek at the other posts—there’s some great stuff on the site. It also has a nifty star ranking system, so you can objectively let me know how much you love the post in a single click.

Check out the post now HERE.

It’s the responsible thing to do.

picky eater who doesn't want to eat green beans

Do we have the right to remain “picky”? You tell me!
Photo © Clay Bitner | Flickr

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Socca tartlets, four ways: Yes, that’s right, it’s a recipe.

I love food blogs. I started reading them when I started cooking for myself, and I read them more now than ever, because it’s a good way to stay connected with other gluten-free people, because it’s practically a requirement for my job (I work on cookbooks, among others), and because there’s nothing quite like some good food porn.

Though I talk about cooking surprisingly little on this blog, I do it pretty much every day. And not only because, being gluten-free, I sorta have to: I love it, too. But I’ve never really considered this a food blog. My focus has always been on stories about gluten-free life, so even though I’m constantly using and making recipes, I’ve steered clear of posting them.

I’ve decided to make an exception, though, because 1) the recipe is worth it, and 2) recipes are kinda like stories, if you think about it. I certainly read food blogs for pleasure, not just utility. A recent New Yorker piece backs me up with the perceptive claim that “cookbooks are like novels…This is what recipes are: stories of pretend meals.”

This recipe—my first ever on this blog—tells a story of the housewarming party my sister and I threw back in August, a story that I have until now neglected to tell. It’s a story of careful planning and intense preparation to serve a spread of food that wasn’t imitating anything gluten-y but didn’t leave anyone thinking, “good for gluten-free.” It’s a story of summer produce and steamy kitchens, told when it’s become just chilly enough to think of those things nostalgically. It’s a story of hard work and great payoff: everyone praised the food and, more importantly, had fun.

It’s also a story of why I don’t usually post recipes. You’ll see what I mean.

The proud hosts with the full spread (minus desserts; I'll tell you about those soon)

The proud hosts, the full spread (minus desserts; I’ll tell you about those soon). The DJ is back there in the corner, too. Kindly ignore.

Socca is an amazing food. I first discovered it through David Lebovitz’s blog, then saw it again on The Kitchn, and then found out it’s apparently Mark Bittman’s favorite food—all of which puts me (and you, should you choose to join) in good company.

It’s a chickpea flour flatbread that can be thin and broiler-blistered, or thick and soft, plain or topped with garlic and onions or pizza toppings, or with the toppings mixed right into the batter. It’s good with every kind of sauce, spread, vegetable, cheese, and seed I’ve ever tried throwing at it. You can make it taste like a pizza or a tart or a frittata. You can even make it into crackers and dip it into hummus, for an incestuous snack. It’s good hot, warm, room temp, and cold. Depending on toppings, it’s vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, even grain-free—though not low-FODMAP, and probably not paleo. (But if you’re going to cheat, you couldn’t choose much better.)

In short, if you’ve never before bought a bag of chickpea flour and think of it as nothing more than the odd aftertaste to some gluten-free cookies, then boy, are you missing out. Try this recipe next time you’re entertaining or just feel like serving yourself an elegant starter.

We worked from a recipe on The Kitchn, tripling it and making four different toppings. We also had two different sizes of muffin tin, so we had regular mini tarts and extra-mini tarts. Socca itself is incredibly simple and forgiving, but my MO in the kitchen (and in life…?) is to take simple things and make them complicated. You can re-simplify as desired.

Here we go!

gluten-free socca recipe

Get ready for more stunning food photography such as this “process shot” of the plain crusts.

How many does the recipe make? Good question.

As a cookbook editor, I’m well aware that recipes require yields. However, I must inform you we did not count our tartlets. As you can see in the pictures, there were approximately a billion.

The original non-tripled recipe makes two thin 10-inch-diameter soccas, so the total area will be about 2 x π52 = 50π, which you can then divide by the area of your muffin pan cups (about .93752π for a mini or 1.3752π for a regular), which means that if you made the single batch you should get about 57 extra-tiny tartlets or 26 regular-tiny tartlets.

If you make the triple batch as listed below, you’ll have about 171 extra-tinies or 78 regular-tinies (or somewhere in between, if you used a mix of both sizes, as we did, and no, I am not going to attempt any further calculations). This is the most math I’ve done in a long time and if it’s wrong I take no responsibility.

The bare bones you need for socca crust—toppings below (note: you can make a more reasonable batch by dividing each of these amounts by 3)

3 cups chickpea flour
3 cups water
4-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

muffin tin socca

Cute silicone muffin liners, right? Just please, please, don’t be an idiot like us and spray them with cooking spray. IT NEVER COMES OFF.

What to do!

  1. If it’s summer, turn on the air conditioner. Do this several hours before beginning. Forget about the bill.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  3. Mix the socca ingredients together and let sit. The minimum recommendation I’ve seen is 10 minutes, but I believe I’ve read that the texture gets better the longer the ingredients sit. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter.
  4. Make all the toppings. HAHAHA, just kidding, you’d better have done that part in advance. (See below.)
  5. Grease mini muffin or muffin pans with cooking spray. Or, if you’re using silicone, please don’t grease. We did, and it ain’t pretty.
  6. Pour very small amounts of socca batter into each muffin hole. You’re going for just barely covering the bottom of the cup, but half the time you will accidentally pour for too long and get thicker tartlets no matter how hard you try to make them uniform. Ours were all slightly different thicknesses, and they were all good, so don’t worry.
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes. We were opening our oven a lot and no doubt cooling it down, so you may actually want to bake for less than 10 if you aren’t. I think we left them in for longer than 10, actually, but you’ll want to start checking by 10. When they’re brown around the edges, you should be good. If they brown too much, they’re still great. Again, don’t worry too much.
  8. Let cool, probably in the muffin pans for a bit and then on a wire rack if you have one. We don’t yet, so they went directly onto serving platters. They were still awesome.
  9. Painstakingly spread toppings onto each of the billion tartlet crusts you’ve created.
  10. If you have guests arriving within hours who will not take kindly to the oven still being on, you may wish to broil the topped tartlets for a minute or so before serving. If you have a kitchen torch, you may wish to go nuts with that instead. You may, however, wish instead to find time to shower before your party, in which case you may
    decide to skip this step.
  11. Take pictures. Collect compliments. EAT.

Zucchini Butter Topping

Use this recipe, also on The Kitchn. We used olive oil and garlic, and only made a half batch because one of our “farm-fresh” zucchinis turned out to be half-rotten. We also added fresh parsley and topped the tartlets with thinly sliced cherry tomatoes. VEGAN! If you want them to be not vegan, you know what to do.

Zucchini butter & sweet potato tartlets, with adorable little placards made by Althea

Zucchini butter & sweet potato tartlets, with adorable placards made by Althea

Sweet Potato Topping

Microwave two large sweet potatoes. Let cool, then remove peel. Save in Tupperware in your fridge to “use in another meal.” Add to compost three weeks later. Meanwhile, mash the peeled sweet potatoes and add all those Italian herbs (oregano, thyme, basil) and salt and pepper. Garnish the tartlets with little bitsles of fresh rosemary. VEGAN! No, you don’t need to add butter to the mash.

The apple, onion & goat cheese is the ugliest, but so good. Prettifying suggestions welcome for next time.

The fig & goat cheese is the ugliest, but so good. Prettifying suggestions welcome for next time.

Fig & Goat Cheese Topping

Make incredible orange-zingy fig jam by simmering a pack of chopped dried figs with water, sugar, orange zest, a cinnamon stick, and a dash of cloves until jammy. Blend until even jammier using an immersion blender or a standalone. Althea masterminded this and thinks other ingredients went in there, too, but she can’t remember. (Brain fog.) So, throw in whatever sounds good to you. Spread tartlets with cooled fig spread, then goat cheese, then a dab of honey for show. NOT VEGAN. But make yourself some nut cheese and sub in agave for honey and you’re golden (provided your sugar wasn’t filtered through bone char…erlack!).

Fig goat cheese rosemary socca recipe

Apple, onion, goat cheese & copious rosemary

Apple, Blue Cheese & Caramelized Onion Topping

Slice yellow onions thinly. Don’t cut off any digits with the mandoline. Caramelize. No, but really. Do yourself a favor and really caramelize, for longer than 20 minutes. Do it for an hour. Or more. Go crazy. I hear this even works in a slow cooker. Slice granny smith apples thinly and sauté with rosemary and a bit of cinnamon. Layer strands of onions, slices of apples, and blue cheese onto the tartlets. NOT VEGAN. But still probably awesome without the cheese, or with a vegan kind. I really don’t know because I was busy putting blue cheese on everything.

And we all ate happily ever after (or, at least, it felt like we were eating forever). The end.

Have you tried socca before? If not, what’s your favorite gluten-free dish? If so, isn’t it GREAT? How do you like to make it?

Gluten-Free-Wednesdays-Thumbnail

Because I’ve always kinda wanted to have something suited to the purpose, I’ve linked up this post in the Gluten-Free Homemaker‘s Gluten-Free Wednesdays carnival….

…and Vegetarian Mamma‘s Gluten-Free Fridays.

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Tell me a sprue story about…grocery shopping

In the wake of the FDA finally announcing gluten-free labeling rules (read about it here, here, and pretty much everywhere), I’ve been thinking about grocery shopping even more than usual, if that’s possible.

In the spirit of celebration, I’d love if you would share YOUR stories about gluten-free grocery shopping—make them sad, funny, infuriating, short, long, general, specific, anything you want…as long as they’re “sprue.”

Gluten-free aisle

Photo © Memphis CVB | Flickr

Here’s mine.

For me, shopping with celiac in tow is only slightly more stressful than it used to be (and still likely not as stressful as having, say, a toddler in tow—or with both, a plight with which some of you are familiar).

That’s because even before I went gluten-free, my grocery shopping trips were already interminable processes of pausing, considering, picking up, rejecting, and repeating. I blame this on:

a) calorie consciousness, which adds time spent reading labels and doing little calculations like, “X calories times Y servings per equals WTF HOW CAN THERE BE THAT MANY IN THIS TINY BAG?,” followed by hunting for more reasonable choices;

b) money consciousness, which adds time spent chewing over this option versus that option and more little calculations like, “X dollars divided by Y servings equals WTF HOW CAN IT COST THAT MUCH FOR THIS TINY BAG?,” followed by hunting for sale items (something that now takes less time, because it’s simple: the gluten-free items are NEVER on sale);

c) lack of spatial awareness or visual memory (I can’t see images in my mind, perhaps due to mild dyscalculia, which would also explain why the aforementioned calculations always take me so long), which adds time spent wandering slooooowly down aisles looking at each item and hoping that one of them will magically turn out to be the thing I came in for, which I sort of thought I’d seen before somewhere, but in which aisle or store I couldn’t say;

d) vegetarianism, which adds time spent scanning ingredients lists for gelatin and trying to remember which cheese brands use microbial rennet (and trying to nail down once and for all my viewpoint on animal-derived rennet—a philosophical dilemma that also, incidentally, adds time to my shopping trips);

and I could go on.

In other words, with or without gluten, I suck at shopping. With so many hem- and haw-worthy items in mind, I dawdle my way through the aisles. When I finally emerge from a Whole Foods or a Fairway or a TJ’s, I feel a bit like a mortal departing the fairy underworld, leaving behind halls bursting with enticing and enchanting food, and having no idea how much time has passed in the outside world.

I lug my bags home in a daze and often find, as I sort through the treasure, that in a sudden panic after too much time spent deliberating I managed to buy several items I do not need, will never use, or cannot use (such as, recently, those two boxes of granola bars whose first ingredient—oats, even gluten-free—is one I do not eat). Perhaps I do this unconsciously to form a link between myself and those magical realms; I must return, you see, to make the return.

Despite all this, and even though nobody likes a slow shopper during the afterwork rush hour, I always make it through with my sanity intact. And even after a rough trip when nothing is certified and everything is overpriced, I don’t feel discouraged for long.

Because…I must admit…I like grocery shopping. I like discovering interesting new ingredients, I appreciate marketing slogans and packaging strategies, I enjoy checking items off the shopping list, I indulge in people- and cart-watching, I sniff the bottoms of pineapples like a pro, I savor the sudden chill of the freezer aisle and thrill to the sight of a good bargain, and, above all, I know it’s all in service of a great cause: delicious gluten-free, vegetarian, (mostly) thrifty, nutritious, home-cooked meals.

Worth every second.

Don’t forget to share your story about gluten-free grocery shopping for you or others. Alternatively, tell me how you feel about the new labeling rules. Are they everything you hoped they’d be? (Links to your own blog posts on the subject are, of course, welcome.)

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Meda ase, Ghana Cafe! (Gluten-free in DC)

I’m not going to make a habit of reviewing restaurants on this blog, partly because I almost never go to them. I swore them off on January 29th until I’m feeling better, per standard recommendations. However, I admit that I’ve “cheated” and gone out to eat three times since then, at three different restaurants.

One was Sacred Chow near NYU (where I was sad to learn they’d changed their menu from the previous small plates format). I was dining with a gluten-free companion who swore up and down that they were good about cross-contamination, and our waiter made similar assurances. Lack of tapas aside, the meal was tasty as always, but I still didn’t feel right about it. After that I renewed my vow to pass on restaurants that weren’t strictly gluten-free until the time is right.

The two restaurants I’ve made exceptions for since then both claim entirely gluten-free menus: the newish Hu Kitchen near Union Square (paleo and veg-friendly, not so easy to pull off) and Ghana Cafe in Washington, DC, while I was visiting my brother Patrick (warning: their website plays drums at you).

I was excited to learn that the cuisine of Ghana traditionally uses cornmeal and rice rather than wheat (or other gluten-containing grains) as staples, meaning the food is naturally gluten-free. When I called in advance, the staff member assured me that everything was gluten-free. In person, our waiter (who I believe was in fact the owner, though he didn’t introduce himself as such) reassured us that everything was gluten-free, and also volunteered that it was dairy-free and GMO-free. Fine by me!

SAUCE2

This sauce (which we didn’t get to try on its own, though I think it was in Pat’s dish) is available for sale on their website in terrifying bulk quantities.

He also let us know that select products of theirs are available at their local Whole Foods (so far, only their hot sauce, but they’d just dropped off samples of other dishes, including the peanut soup that I had, and were hoping they’d get picked up—good luck!).

I had a rice and black-eyed pea pilaf-style dish (wakye, I think) with peanut soup, and Pat and I split a dish called banku, made of fermented corn, which was a slightly sour polenta-bready thing. I liked it plain; though it was quite bland, it struck me as great comfort food. It became magical when dunked in the peanut soup or spread with the incredible spice mixture that came out with it. This mix was their housemade shito, which is normally based on seafood but which they make vegan. They didn’t want to give away their recipe, but I got confirmation that it was “just spices.” Have you had it?

Me with my new favorite condiment, shito. ("Pull up your shirt!," says my Mom.)

Me with my new favorite condiment, shito. (I know, I know: “Pull up your shirt!,” says Mom.)

Big brother Pat ordered the jollof (tomatoey, spiced) rice with snapper. I think he was a bit surprised when his entrée came out as an entire fish, head and all . . .

HTC PI86100_000094

. . . but that didn’t stop him from eating it. I didn’t stop him either, despite staring at it with perturbed fascination and commenting, “You can still see its little teeth!” and “It’s frowning at me!”

Yeah, I’m that vegetarian.

Anyway, it was a wonderful meal, and the restaurant, I think, is an underappreciated gem, which is why I wanted to be sure to write a review. Atmosphere-wise, it was fine—brightly colored tables, not-too-loud music, and large windows to the street that we sat by. Our waiter and busboy were friendly and forthcoming. Somewhat pricey, but very good food.

I was sort of nervous to go, though, because so few gluten-freers were talking about it online. I found one Yelper who spoke (yelped?) highly of it (others didn’t even mention the gluten-free menu, and many complained about slow service, which, to be fair, we also experienced—Pat and I agreed to term it “relaxed,” but we could’ve gone for a water refill or two, especially with the smallish glasses). A DC Celiac Support Group member also wrote a favorable review, but the restaurant didn’t make it into the most recently updated version of their GF-friendly restaurants list.

Where’s the love, DCers?

Here it is:

HTC PI86100_000096

Another reason I can’t do restaurant reviews: I don’t think to take pictures until the food is gone, and then I beg my dining companions to take them with low-quality cell phone cameras.

Given that my “stuff” isn’t under control, I suppose I shouldn’t have eaten out yet, even with all the reassurances, but I’m not beating myself up over it. I was on vacation, the world didn’t end, and I enjoyed my food. It was also nice to have three different dishes without having to do any dishes after. Best of all, my meal was free. (Thanks, Pat!)

Of course, if you don’t have your big brother there to pick up the tab, your food won’t be free, but it will be gluten-free (and dairy-free, and GMO-free) and tasty. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I definitely recommend Ghana Cafe. And if you get your hands on a decent banku or vegetarian shito recipe, let me know, because I’ll be all over that shito.

Tell me: What’s your favorite underappreciated/hole-in-the-wall/under-blogged-about restaurant?

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