Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Adapting: Inspirations from today's Chron

Lots of inspiration for the gluten-free and allergy-prone in today's food section of the SF Chronicle.

In Sweet and low, Marlene Sorosky Gray mentions several desserts that adapt well for special dietary needs (as well as for dieters). Ripe fruit, baked or poached fruit, and meringue are flexible and gluten-free by nature. (Just avoid fruits to which you are allergic.) Sorbets can be made at home. You can take a pie recipe and turn it into a crisp, sprinkling the filling with a gluten-free topping. Out of five published recipes, I can use two as written (the poached peaches and meringue torte), two with mild modifications (my apricot-cherry crisp would use teff or buckwheat flour, my melon sorbet would substitute ginger for mint), and the last by turning the pie into a crisp or trying one of the crusts in The Wheat Free Cook. Mmm.

Amanda Berne's The Accidental Vegetarian reminds me of two good inspirations for cooking around allergies. First, vegan recipes can be a great resource for avoiding dairy. One of these days I will review the Veganomicon, an excellent book for those who are daunted by new ingredients, such as beans that don't come from a can. (Note: the authors have a keen web site, the PostPunk Kitchen.) Second, the pasta salad suggestions can all be made up with the new gluten-free pastas on the shelf in many markets. I've not seen orecchiette so far, but this would be tasty using elbow or spiral brown rice pasta.

Marlene Spieler's Roving Feast features salade nicoise, another taste delight that is safe for James. His tomatoes are flung onto my plate as soon as his arrives, and we're both happy.

Gear: Prep Bowls

Cooking with gluten-free flours involves more measuring than conventional recipes. Typical gluten-free recipes will replace 1 cup of regular flour with 1/2 cup of heavy non-wheat flour (sorghum, rice, corn, etc.) and 1/2 cup of light flour (potato flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch), plus the pricey but invaluable xanthan gum that keeps your baked good from collapsing like an overdone souffle.

Let's just say, it's easy for me to lose track of where I am in the measuring process. So these handy little prep bowls have been a great help. Designed by television chef Mario Batali, these five nesting bowls have two measurements inside, one for the full cup and one for the half. You can measure and prep at the same time.

They work well for other ingredients besides flour, and can go to the everyday table with condiments for tacos.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Technique: Why Bother?

Excellent article in the Wednesday Food section of the SF Chronicle, preserved on the sfgate website, on Kitchen Essentials: 10 techniques every cook should know.

Understanding cooking technique has been most helpful to me in coping with the substitutions and in reviewing potential recipes.

Of the techniques covered in this article, folding has been my favorite for years, even before wheat departed my cooking. When you can't rely on wheat to hold up your baking, eggs can step in to save the day. In searching for recipes that will work for us, I know those with beaten eggs can survive my rampant substitutions because the egg whites will do the heavy lifting.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dining Out: Pick A Cuisine

Dining out becomes a nightmare for the food sensitive. Luckily many restaurants are posting ingredients as a matter of course. We praise this trend lavishly, as it saves cross-examining the wait staff. Also, the mere mention of food allergies now brings prompt attention, as so many people have potentially fatal allergies to foods such as peanuts. Responsible restaurants prefer customers who are not rendered comatose by the food.

One way to smooth dining out with allergies is to check out various national cuisines. Oriental food, for example, is less apt to have many of James' known offenders. This involves some research and questioning about typical food preparation for Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, or Malaysian dishes. Fortunately restaurant staff are usually patient, polite, knowledgeable, and at worst, willing to find someone who can answer your questions. (Our rule of thumb for ethnic cuisine: the good restaurants have a high proportion of diners of a corresponding ethnicity. Bonus points if the menu is dual-language.)

So, for example, we learn that soba noodles have wheat, but rice noodles do not. Inventive dessert treats can be made with rice flour and bean paste. Sweet and sour sauce gets its zing from tomatoes and pineapple, so I wait 'til I'm dining with girlfriends and we order all the yummies our men eschew for their various reasons. Other strategies: Food that is cooked to order can often be made without the offending ingredients. Sauces can be put on the side. Yes, you do have to ask for special treatment, but this is the assertiveness 1A. Polite requests are rarely a problem, and when they are, you have the power to never darken their door again. (That's another post.)

Our latest oriental restaurant find is Banana Island Restaurant in Daly City, a crossroads of Thai-Malaysian-Singapore cuisine. Tucked away inside the Westlake Mall, Banana Island survived a prolonged isolation during the construction of a garage that blocked its only entrance. Business was apparently not harmed, as the place was always busy but not packed. The menu is vast and colorful. The Singapore tofu is ethereal; they make it there. In the center kitchen, you can watch chefs stretching and folding a rice flour bread that comes with a yummy curry dipping sauce. Coconut milk is used instead of cow dairy. Prices are moderate. Service is prompt and efficient, whether you are a large group or a twosome. I found no web page for Banana Island but two pages of restaurant reviews come up when you google it. Yum!