Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gluten-Free Shopping Guide

Let me begin with the disclaimer that Cecelia's Marketplace has never offered me anything for this review and my only relationship with them is that I purchased their guide and regularly recommend it to others.

If you have gluten sensitivities, I highly recommend the Gluten-Free Shopping Guide from Cecelia's Marketplace.  It really made the difference for us in surviving the transition to gluten-free. 

The Pros:

An amazingly comprehensive list of gluten-free products, with very visible warning symbols on those at risk of cross-contamination because of shared equipment or facilities. 

Includes many store brands, such as Publix, Winn-Dixie, Meijer's, Kroger and Wal-mart.  Instead of being forced to buy specialty food labeled gluten-free we're able to buy most of our groceries in Publix store brand.  Most store brands don't label, but if they're safe, they're in the book.

Includes over-the-counter pharmacy items such as vitamins, pain meds and cold and flu meds. It was a nightmare finding multivitamins and vitamin E that didn't use wheat grass as the E source.  We were paying upwards of $50 a bottle for safe vitamins.  This book helped us find a safe store brand that saved us a bundle. 

Available in versions that list casein and soy-free products

Compact and portable:  We leave it in the glove compartment of the car so that it's available for shopping trips, then it fits in my purse for walking around the store.

Website updates; if information changes between editions, they list the update on their website under "product alerts" so that you can update the guide. This is crucial information as manufacturers sometimes reformulate without allergens in mind.    

We have used the book for a year, and the information has proven very trustworthy.  My partner has a very high gluten sensitivity and has not yet gotten sick from a product listed as safe. 

The Cons:

From using the 2011/2012 version, my biggest complaint is the categorization of products.  Until you get used to their index system it can be difficult to find items.  For instance, there are separate categories for "Chocolate" and "Candy," and what's included in each seems somewhat arbitrary. A second example is that there is no category for, say, "frozen vegetables." You have to look it up under the individual vegetable type, and the medley mixes are scattered between them.  This can make for a good 10 minutes in front of the frozen veggie section of the grocery store flipping back and forth to find out what you can buy.  Also, it can be frustrating to find an item in the index and flip to that page only to find a "see this other category" placeholder.  It would be easier to put that information in the index itself instead of sending the user on a wild goose chase.

I would like to see more imported cheeses listed, but considering the language and regulatory barriers this might be unrealistic.  There are several domestic brands, so I can still find goat cheese and a good feta when I have a craving.  

I would love to see pet foods included.  It doesn't do any good to keep a house gluten-free when pet mouths come into contact with their fur and furniture after eating.  Someone with high sensitivity could absolutely get sick by petting an animal who ate gluten before grooming itself.  Right now we have to be satisfied with reading labels and avoiding food with gluten grains. 

So it isn't perfectly user friendly.  I found that the first shopping trip using the guide took an extra hour for the time spent looking things up, but saved me more than a third of my grocery bill because I was able to buy store brands not explicitly labeled gluten-free.  Once I had a list of favorite products it cut my shopping time back down to normal.  I was able to grab my "usual," which I knew was gluten-free, and only had to reference the book once or twice per trip for specialty items I didn't usually buy. 

In all, though, the guide greatly expanded my ability to shop and freed me from only being able to buy brands that labeled.  I would still keep encouraging companies to label products gluten-free, but this guide gives you the option of independence from the labels.  I have not tested the casein/soy versions, but if they're as reliable as the gluten edition then they'd be a fantastic resource.  While companies are getting better about labeling for gluten, casein isn't even on the radar yet and is casually hidden in all kinds of prepared foods.

Recipe Box: Gluten-Free Lasagna

Gluten-Free Lasagna

This uses zucchini instead of noodles, but you can substitute summer squash or eggplant depending on what's in season.  The salting and roasting of the squash and the cooking down of the sauce reduces the moisture content.  In regular lasagna the noodles absorb a lot of moisture so it can be tricky to keep noodleless versions from being sloppy.   If you still end up with watery lasagna (it will depend on the moisture content of the ricotta and squash) you can use corn starch to thicken sauce before spreading in the lasagna layer.  This will trap some additional moisture during baking. 

Use a high-sided 9x13 pan or two 8x8.  Freezes well either baked or unbaked.  


4-6 medium size zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage
1 chopped medium onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 24 ounce jar marinara sauce
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup red wine
4 cups ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped and lightly packed
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt


Slice zucchini into thin, wide strips (you do not have to peel first).  Place on a layer of paper (or clean, lint-free) towels on a cookie sheet and salt.  Place another layer of towel over it and weight it with another cookie sheet.  This will draw moisture from the squash.  Leave for at least 1/2 hour, replacing top towel layer if saturated.

In a medium sauce pan, cook the ground sausage or beef until no longer pink. 
Add onion, garlic and carrots and cook until onions are translucent and sausage is browned. 

Add marinara sauce, tomato paste and red wine to mixture.  Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until very thick.  Stir occasionally.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta cheese, eggs, half the Parmesan, chopped spinach and basil.  set aside.

Rinse the zucchini strips to remove salt and dry on paper towels.  Place on cookie sheet in a single layer and brush top lightly with olive oil.  Roast on top rack for 3 minutes or until just starting to brown.  Flip and roast for an additional 3 minutes or until beginning to brown.  Remove from oven.  Don't worry if they seem dry; they will absolutely absorb plenty of moisture from the lasagna.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees F.   Move rack to center of oven.

Coat baking dish(es) with olive oil. 

Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan. 

Top with a layer of zucchini slices. 

Top with a layer of the ricotta mixture. 

Top with a layer of mozzarella cheese

Repeat until pan is full.  Finish with a layer of sauce, a thicker layer of mozzarella, the remaining Parmesan, and the dried oregano. 

Place finished pans on a cookie sheet or layer of foil for baking; this will catch drips and keep your oven clean. 

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until cheese on top is browned and bubbly. 

Let stand 10-20 minutes before serving to finish firming up.

If you're slicing it up for lunches or freeze-ahead meals, it will be much easier to handle if completely cool or even refrigerated overnight.  The cheese has less of a tendency of escaping and you can cut nice neat tupperware-size squares. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Recipe Box: Homemade Plum Sauce with Sweet Cherries

Homemade Plum Sauce with Sweet Cherries

This is a great combination of sweet-spicy-sour that has a much more nuanced flavor that the bottled plum sauce or restaurant version.  It’s also a great mid to late-summer dish using seasonal fruit.  The sauce can be made in large batches and refrigerated for at least 1 week, or canned for longer storage. 

The ginger and pepper both add heat, so you can adjust either one to taste.  The ginger adds a pleasant sort of  hot "buzz" while the pepper or chile oil brings a more direct kick to compliment the sweet fruit.  The cherries add tartness to tone down the sweetness of the plums.

Try it as a dipping sauce, a condiment for rice, a sauce for poultry, fish or tofu, or a barbecue glaze (add only in last ten minutes of grilling because the sugars can scorch easily).

First Step:
2 medium very ripe plums, pitted and coarsely chopped
6-8 ripe sweet cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup tightly packed brown sugar
2 cups water

Combine in medium saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat, scraping bottom, until lightly boiling.
Turn down heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
Uncover and stir for an additional 30 minutes

Second Step :
2 Tablespoons Tamari sauce (can substitute 3 Tablespoons soy sauce)
½ teaspoon powdered ginger or 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
½ teaspoon garlic powder or 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder or 2 teaspoons very finely minced onion
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or chili oil (or to taste)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (can substitute white or apple cider vinegar)

Add all to simmering mixture in saucepan and stir until well combined.  Gently simmer for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If sauce becomes too thick, add a small amount of water to thin.

If the mixture does not thicken on it’s own from the pectin in the fruit, mix 1 tablespoon corn or potato starch with 1 tablespoon cold water in a separate container.  Stir sauce while adding starch/water mix and simmer, stirring, until just thinner than you’d like.  Remove from heat (it will thicken further as it cools.)

Chicken and Rice in Plum Sauce

If you’ve made the plum sauce ahead of time, this is a great potluck contribution or meal for 4 that can be put together in about 30 minutes.  You can substitute grilled tofu for the chicken if you prefer a vegan option.

Brown 8 ounces of chicken until cooked through.  Shred with forks. 
Cook 4 cups of rice (2 cups raw rice, 2 cups water) in separate pot according to package directions
Combine the shredded chicken, cooked rice and 1-2 cups plum sauce in small crock pot.  Set on low to keep warm or serve immediately.

Learn How to Fail

Take a look around at our culture’s media, and one of the many themes that emerges is that failure is the worst thing that can happen to you.  Celebrity mis-steps are made headlines;  fictional relationships explode over a single lapse in judgement; competitions are all or nothing. 

It is no wonder that mistakes and failures, large and small, serve as a considerable roadblock to our self-esteem.  We are programmed to beat ourselves up for small imperfections, agonize forever over a single social gaffe, and assume every single negative thing in our lives is the fault of our imperfections.

In self-acceptance it is vitally important to learn how to fail.  Every single human, no matter how successful or famous, makes mistakes.  It is what we do with our mistakes that defines us as a person and determines how we feel about ourselves.

Step 1:  Admit It

Admit that you made a mistake, both to yourself and anyone else affected.  You get bonus points for admitting your mistake as soon as you realize it exists, rather than waiting to see if it passes unnoticed or letting someone else take the fall.  You also get kudos for admitting your mistake without getting angry or resentful toward either yourself or others. 

The  point here is to accept how things are right now, in this time and place.  If you deny your mistakes, you are stuck in the past; you cannot learn from them or correct their effect.  You cannot give yourself a chance to really make it right and feel the associated boost in self-esteem of knowing you have handled something difficult with grace and dignity.

Step 2:  Apologize

Many people have it stuck in their head that any conflict should be treated like a game of chicken.  The first person to “back down” by apologizing loses the game (along with social status).  In reality, people tend to have much more respect for someone who can easily admit when they’re wrong.  After all, only a person who already has high status can afford to risk it by apologizing.   The people who can’t back down are those who fear any loss of status, which comes across to others as if they have very little to begin with. 

So apologize.  This is a separate step from the first one, so simply saying “I made a mistake” does not count as an apology (although it’s a good lead-in).  The best apology is simple; “I apologize” or “I’m sorry”.  Also, mean it (even if you have to think about it for a while first). 

Step 4:  Make Amends

When your mistake adversely affects someone (including you), it is important to make a sincere effort at amends.  This doesn’t have to be on an eye for an eye basis, but it should show some tangible willingness to compensate.  If you wreck someone’s car, there is no reasonable expectation that you will buy them another (unless you can easily afford it).  A reasonable effort at making amends could be volunteering to drive them to important appointments, paying for the tow truck or insurance deductible if you can afford it, or even offering to cook them dinner or clean their house since they may have less free time or money because of the accident.  In other words, make it relevant, thoughtful and timely. 

Don’t  make it about you.  If they really don’t want you to cook for them, showing up on their doorstep with endless casseroles is not helping them.  It is only serving you make you feel better.  Find out what they actually need and what they might appreciate.  Part of the thoughtful effort is a consideration of how they feel and what they need. 

Remember that you need to make amends to yourself as well.  If you are beating yourself up for a private mistake, do something meaningful to cheer yourself up.  If you’ve slipped into body-bashing, take a few minutes to repeat some affirmations, experience movement, or something else constructive towards self-acceptance. 

Step 3:  Learn From It

Mistakes are not indelible.  You can make a serious dent in your self-esteem by dwelling on past mistakes.  Like any other negative thing in life, mistakes may require some closure to put behind you.

This doesn’t mean brushing off mistakes so that you repeat them indefinitely.  It may mean considering ways to avoid similar mistakes in the future (if possible).  It may mean practicing something in more detail.  It may simply be considered an opportunity to handle it well after the fact. 

It also doesn’t mean that you should beat yourself up twice as hard if you make the same mistake again.  A repeat may mean you need to pay closer attention at how to prevent the mistake, but it isn’t a sign of personal weakness.  Successful business owners often fail at several ventures before they find their niche.  Successful athletes fail at something many times before they perfect it.  When I was learning to ride, I was told I wasn’t a “real” horseperson until I’d hit the ground (unintentionally) at least twenty times.  Mistakes happen.  Each one is an opportunity, not a final judgement. 

So be willing to fail.  You can not only mitigate its negative effects in your life, but also turn it into a constructive experience that boosts your self-esteem and personal growth. 

Here are the steps in action:

Out loud to someone affected by the mistake, or internally if only you are affected:

“I made a mistake.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Is there any way I can make it up to you?  Would you let me do (XYZ)?”

Then, internally:

Is there any way I could have avoided making this mistake? 
What could I do differently next time? 
Did I handle this well?  How could I have done better?
What did I learn about myself or the process?

Most Importantly:
I forgive myself. 
I am proud of myself for what I did right in handling this mistake.