Saturday, August 25, 2012

Living Without Dairy: Part I

Regardless of how you’ve come to live a dairy free life, the change can be overwhelming.  Everywhere you look there is milk, butter, cheese, cream, etc….  You might think that it’s easy to spot the dairy culprit, but too often it’s a sneaky little bugger.  This is one of the reasons why I make as much at home as possible.  I can control what goes into my food and I know that my equipment is clean.  You still have to be careful when purchasing food items.

At the grocery store there are some key things to look for.  There are the obvious ones: milk, butter, cheese, cream, and yogurt.  Some of the less obvious culprits:
·      milk powder
·      whey
·      casein
·      caseinate
·      lactic acid
·      lactose
·      galactose
·      recaldent (found in some Trident chewing gum and is milk derived)
·      caramel coloring (may be derived from lactose. If there is any doubt, then avoid it.)
·      high protein or protein enriched foods (i.e. wheat) (often from a milk source)
·      “natural ingredients” may contain dairy products or dairy by-products

Beware that you can find casein/caseinate in many non-dairy products.

Kosher symbols are a tool that can help you determine of the item you want to buy is safe to eat.  Usually these symbols can be found near the product’s name, though sometimes it is found farther down on the front of the package. First look for “K” or “U”.  This will tell you if the item is Kosher or not.  If you see “D” or “DE”, then the item was produced on equipment that is also used to produce items that contain dairy and is therefore contaminated.  “Pareve” or “Parve” means that the product contains no diary, diary by-products or meat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there are trace particles of dairy.  If you see the symbol “P”, that just means Passover.

Food products are not the only place where you can come in contact with dairy.  Be careful when taking vitamins and other supplements and make sure to check the ingredients.  Unfortunately, lactose is a common binder in prescription medications. Lactose will be listed in the inactive ingredients.  I have had to take a couple of prescriptions to a compounding pharmacy.  If possible, they will make your prescription lactose free.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Red Lentil and Tomato Soup

It’s now peak tomato season and there is nothing like fresh homegrown tomatoes.  Of course, this is the time of year to eat them fresh, but if you want to change things up a bit, try Red Lentil and Tomato Soup.  It’s a nice filling soup with loads of flavor. The lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamin B1, folate, and iron. For this recipe, I prefer using dried herbs and particularly Mediterranean oregano and Mediterranean basil.  It’s not necessary to use the Mediterranean oregano and basil, regular oregano and basil will work just fine. I love to triple or quadruple the recipe and freeze some for a rainy day.

4 tsp olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 ½ cups split red lentils
4 large tomatoes, skinned, seeded and roughly chopped*
48 oz (6 cups) chicken stock (or vegetable, if you prefer)
3 tsp salt (divided)
1 ½ tsp pepper (divided)
1 tsp  dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp + 2 tsp dried parsley

·      Heat oil in a large pot. Add chopped onions, celery, ½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper. Stirring occasionally, cook until translucent.
·      Add lentils and cook for 1 minute
·      Add tomatoes, chicken stock,  dried herbs, and the remaining salt (2 ½ tsp) and pepper (1 tsp).
·      Bring to a boil.
·      Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until the vegetable and lentils are cooked and tender. Stir occasionally.
·      Remove from heat and slightly cool. If you have an immersion blender, blend until smooth. If not, pour into a food processer or blender (in batches if necessary) and purée until smooth. I prefer my soup with a little bit of texture to it, but it’s all a matter of personal preference.
·      Return to the pan if you used a food processer or blender.
·      Reheat and serve

*Easy way to remove the skin from a tomato:
o   Bring a medium pot of water to boil.
o   Cut out each stem.
o   Cut an ‘X’ in the bottom of each tomato.
o   Place tomatoes in the boiling water for 1-2 minutes.
o   Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and immediately immerse them in a bowl of ice water.
o   Pull the skins from the tomatoes (they should come off easily).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Shrimp Étouffée

I love creole and Cajun food. One of my favorites is Shrimp Étouffée (or crawfish if I could get my hands on some).  Borrowed from the French verb étouffer meaning to smother, the shrimp in Shrimp Étouffée is smothered in a wonderfully fragrant and spicy sauce. I find it addictive and I have a hard time getting myself to stop eating this delectable dish.  The roux can be rather temperamental and if left unattended can burn. Preventing this tragedy isn’t as difficult as you would think. Get everything prepare beforehand and have it ready to be added once the roux reaches the desired color because you do NOT want to leave the roux once you’ve started it. After you’ve added the vegetables, seasoning, and stock, it no longer needs your undivided attention. Don’t forget to include rice and a nice crusty loaf of French bread.

⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced (or 2 tsp of pre-minced)
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¼-⅓ teaspoons cayenne pepper (to taste/optional)
½ tbsp creole seasoning (to taste)
1 cup fish (or shrimp) stock
1 pound of medium shrimp- peeled and deveined
1 tsp of Louisiana hot sauce

·      Chop the green pepper, onion, garlic, celery, and tomatoes. Set aside.
·      Measure out the fish stock. Set aside.
·      Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
·      Stir in flour, a little bit at a time. Stir constantly until the roux turns the color of peanut butter, maybe a little darker (approximately 15-20 minutes).*
·      Add the onions, green pepper, celery, and garlic. Saute until soft (approximately 5 minutes).
·      Stir in the tomatoes, fish stock, creole seasoning, and cayenne pepper.
·      Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
·      Add the hot sauce and shrimp. Cook until the shrimp is done, about 10 minutes.

*If you burn the roux, dump it out and start over.

**I like to double the amount of sauce and put ½ in the freezer for a later date.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Asheville Part II

Day 2 begins with brunch at Café Ello. They were more than happy to accommodate my milk allergy. It was a great treat for me because I haven’t had breakfast in a restaurant in what seems like forever.  I enjoyed a simple meal of scrambled eggs, country potatoes, and hickory smoked bacon. Becky had 2 eggs over medium and toast.  Jody and Kelly ordered the turkey club sandwich.  After finishing our meal, we enjoyed the sites and sounds of Bele Chere, a music and arts festival.  The biggest fly in the ointment was the heat. It’s been hotter, but I usually don’t go walking in 90 something degree weather. I did stumble across this amazing artist, Aaron Reed, and fell in love with a drawing of a woman playing a cello.  All I can say is, “Happy Birthday to me!”  I can’t wait to see it hanging on the wall in the room where I practice my cello.    By the time we headed back to the hotel, I was practically a walking puddle. Did I mention that I do not like hot weather? No? Well, now you know. We headed back to the hotel for time at the spa and to freshen up for dinner.

Now, I would have been perfectly happy to return to Rezaz for our evening meal, but my fabulous girlfriends would NOT settle for that and searched and called several different restaurants. We ended up spending a very long and wonderful evening at Posana Café. We began our meal with a vegetable tempura appetizer. Kelly and I ordered their Seared Sunburst Farms Trout with forbidden rice, marinated Asian cucumbers, house kimchi, and shiso puree.  Can we get another, “Wow!”?  The simply seasoned trout was perfectly done.  I have never had forbidden rice before and what a treat it was.  It was nutty and creamy with a hint of mushroom to it’s flavor. The marinated cucumbers added a nice acidic brightness to the fish. Their kimchi is not traditional Korean kimchi and while a little salty for my tastes, it was still very good. Becky enjoyed the Brasstown Beef burger with pimento cheese, smoked bacon and truffle parmesan french fries.  It was seared scallops with tomato confit, local squash, okra, corn succotash and basil vinaigrette.  Normally this would be the end of the meal for me. I haven’t had a dessert in a restaurant in over 10 years. I was beyond surprised when the waitress told me that there were dessert options for me. Yipee!!! Even though I was full, I ordered dessert just because I could (and it was my birthday).  Jody got the Caramel Almond Nougat Bomb, Kelly got Blackberry Almond Chocolate Trio, and I was able to enjoy the Blueberry Upside-Down Cake. After a wonderful meal and 2 bottles of wine, we closed the restaurant.

The next morning we headed back to Café Ello for brunch.  I had the same thing as before except I substituted a bowl of fresh fruit in place of bacon.  Before heading back home, we enjoyed walked around enjoying the festival.

This was a fabulous trip on so many levels.  I got to spend time with my three closest girlfriends. I was able to eat several great meals at restaurants that were not Asian or ribs. And last but not least, my husband took the time to orchestrate this grand weekend.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Asheville Part I

Last weekend was quite the whirlwind. My birthday was this week and my wonderful husband organized and surprised me with a girls’ weekend for my birthday.  He originally told me last Wednesday that he was taking me out of town for the weekend without our daughter and NOT to ask any questions because he was taking care of everything.  Now that was soooo hard for me, not asking any questions and NOT having any control at all. Yikes! So, I was running around, doing laundry and packing.  He called me Friday morning and suggested that we meet my mom for lunch and let her take Madeleine afterwards. When we arrived at our favorite sushi restaurant, Simplee Sushi, I was greeted with a very unexpected sight. In addition to seeing my mom and youngest brother at the table were two of my closest girlfriends. To say that I was surprised is an understatement. And it was a great surprise. We had a fabulous lunch of gyoza, shrimp tempura and sushi. Well, most of us had sushi. Kelly and Mike, my husband, had hibachi chicken. A birthday isn’t a birthday without cake and sure enough, Grace came out with a tray of delicious lemon coconut cupcakes that my mom made.

After lunch, Madeleine went to spend the afternoon with Grandma and Uncle Alex. The rest of us headed back to the house. When we got there, I was informed that Jody and Kelly were kidnapping me. I am now completely discombobulated. When we arrived in Asheville, the car’s GPS gave us the wrong directions to the hotel (we were told later that this happens to a lot of people).  We finally pull into the Grand Bohemian Hotel. All I can say is, “WOW!” It’s an amazing hotel with tons of ambiance. At this point, I can’t imagine my day getting any better…but it does.  As I walk into the lobby of the hotel, standing there holding a tray with four glasses of champagne is my other dear friend, Becky. I was speechless.  We all headed up to our rooms with a glass of bubbly each. That is a fabulous way to be greeted after a two-hour drive.

One of the things I hate about being allergic to dairy is not being to eat at regular restaurants when traveling . Usually, I stick with Asian restaurants or a place that serves ribs (they are usually safe) and fries. Don’t get me wrong, I love Asian food and I love ribs, but you get kind of tired of the same thing every time you eat out.  For those of you who don’t know (and I was one of them), Asheville is a sophisticated town where dining is concerned. There were several places that were able to not only accommodate my allergy, but provide me with a fabulous culinary experience. 

After enjoying a bottle of prosecco in the “party room”, Becky and I headed back to our room to freshen up. Our first dining experience was at Rezaz’s which featured Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cuisine.  All I can say is, “Oh my!”. We started with  Reza Mezze, an appetizer of hummus, muhamara, babaganouj, pita bread and feta cheese (which they served on the side for my girlfriends).  Our waiter suggested replacing the babaganouj with an extra serving of muhamara and I am glad he did. I had never had it before and it was delicious. It’s a dip of roasted red peppers, walnuts, pomegranate molasses, lemon, and cumin.  The hummus was probably the best I have had to date. For our main course, I had several options. I love duck when it’s done right. I hadn't had duck in years, so I was thrilled when I was able to order their smoked duck breast.  They served it over green beans and cooked greens. It was divine! I wish I had brought my camera with me, but my mind was still in a whirlwind and I forgot it in the room.  Jody and Becky had the mahi mahi special with risotto and avocado mousse. Kelly had the ribeye special with mashed potatoes and veggies.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I wish that this restaurant were located in Charlotte. I would be there every week.