Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Mix of Cultural Flavors ~

Summertime brings forth so many amazing fresh fruits and veggies that we really have no excuse for not eating well right now, and enjoying the flavors that nature has so generously given to us. I've been frequenting my local farmer's market that's close to my house, every Saturday morning when I'm in town. Last Saturday, I loaded up on some delicious peaches, baby tomatoes, zucchini, kale, you name it...and I love how Mother Nature considered all of us Celiacs when she was creating these foods that taste perfect straight out of the ground/garden or picked from a tree...just as she intended.

Recently, I've realized that I tend to cook foods that I have eaten and learned about while traveling abroad and have then become favorites of mine over time. Another thing I have realized about myself, I rarely use recipes. I should dust off some of these amazing cookbooks that are lining the top shelf in my kitchen and put them to use more often, so now I have another project to add to my never ending, "To-do" list. If I had the luxury of being independently can guess where you would find me most of the time...yes, in my sweet kitchen cooking away and creating delicious (I hope) meals for all of my friends and loved ones. In the meantime, I do my best to always try new dishes that come to mind or heart, remembering along the way, tastes from some of my favorite cultures and stops on the map.

In another part of my adult life, I used to spend a lot of time in Italy - what an amazing country. Just say the word "Italy" to most avid travelers and they start drooling and going on and on about a favorite restaurant they dined in, or a villa they stayed at and...the pasta, of course. I have a very fond memory of the last real pasta dish that I ate (full of gluten) before surrendering to my new life as a Celiac. It was in September of 2000 - I was staying at a friend's villa she owns and runs with her family, Villa di Piazzano in Cortona, a most magical location on this earth. My friend and her mother prepared the most delicious, authentic and special meal for my birthday. I can still smell and taste the ravioli with walnut sauce they handmade for me. At that moment, I was keenly aware that dish would be the final authentic, Italian, gluten-filled ravioli I would ever eat...let's just say, I scrapped every morsel off of my plate that night.

The other evening as I was assessing all of the fresh veggies in my fridge, I decided to create a lovely Insalata Caprese, a true favorite of mine and garnish it with the basil I'm growing, along with a fabulous fig-vinegar.

It's the perfect summer dish filled with such robust old-world flavors, grown close at hand and locally. Pair it with a crisp bottle of Pinot Grigio, some additional antipasti, and you have a lovely dinner to share or eat all by yourself!

Jumping across the Mediterranean, here's truly my favorite dish/meal that I literally live on whenever I'm in Spain or the Basque Country, Tortilla Espanola. Mmmmmmm

Last night, I was thoroughly inspired to cook up my own Tortilla because earlier in the day I had been influenced by all the social media chatting taking place about this week/weekend's Jaialdi celebration in Boise, ID. Jaialdi in Euskera (Basque language) means "party time" and boy won't it be. Every five years, thousands of us Bascos ascend upon the city of Boise to celebrate in grand style for five days of eating, drinking, dancing, socializing and oh yeah, there's some cultural activities going on, as well. Bar Gernika in Boise has rockin' Tortilla and I really can't wait to sink my teeth into a large pie-shaped piece...pieces throughout the last night's dish was just getting me geared up for my staple that I shall be eating for the next few days, along with several...many Kalimotxos...and really, how great is it that "Kalimotxo" has it's own Wikipedia address?!

The Tortilla that I created last night was traditional in the sense that it included potato, onion and eggs, but I spruced it up a bit with some fresh zucchini slices, chorizo slices and Basque cheese. When it fluffs up in the pan, you can't help but start snapping photos. I use a great tortilla pan that I purchased from the La Tienda...William Sonoma carries one, as well...but mine was much more economical and works like a charm over and over again. If you are so inspired to pick one up for yourself, I promise you will not be disappointed. It makes the flipping of the tortilla a dream and if you have every tried to flip with a flat plate on the bottom, over the sink, fearing running eggness dripping all over your kitchen or suffering from 3rd degree burns, this is the pan for you.

On our last trip to visit family and friends in Euskadi (Basque Country), daily trips to the bar on the beach in San Sebastian for our Tortilla fix were quite common, and having to say "agur" (goodbye) to that little ritual and assimilate back in to my present life, was a bit challenging. Though we can recreate amazing dishes or simple peasant food we've tasted in far off lands, I think the missing ingredients of culture that can rarely be emulated is the fresh, salty ocean air, or the echo-ing of clanking silverware and dishes being washed down a cobblestone alley somewhere in Toscana...or perhaps, it's really just that they grow amazing tomatoes across the Pond.

Insalata Caprese

Serves 2-4

- 3 Heirloom tomatoes - medium size, sliced

- 2 Cups chopped
red leaf lettuce

- 1/2 Large avocado, sliced

- Fresh Basil leaves

- 1/2 Cup of fresh mozzarella cheese (small ball-size)

- 3 Tbsp. Olive oil

- 4 Tbsp. Fig vinegar

- Salt and pepper to taste

Chop lettuce and place in a narrow strip down center of serving plate. Slice all tomatoes and layer them on top of the lettuce. Layer avocado slices on top of tomatoes, garnish with fresh Basil. Place mozzarella around plate as desired. Drizzle olive oil and fig vinegar over the salad. Salt and pepper to taste.


Tortilla Espanola (con queso y chorizo)
Serves 4

- 5 large eggs

- 2 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

- 2 Chorizo (sausages) medium sliced

- 1 Small zucchini, thinly sliced (optional)

- 2-4 oz. of sliced Basque or Spanish cheese (white)


Crack the eggs into a bowl. Whisk with a fork and add a pinch of salt. Heat some oil in a frying pan (not one with a heavy base as this will prove to be a hindrance when preparing to do the flip). This is why the tortilla pan is great. Add the potato and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the onion and saute together until onions become translucent.

When the potato starts to brown a little on the edges and is mashed up with the onion in a lumpy fashion then add the zucchini (optional)and eggs. Make sure the potato and onions are fully submerged by the eggs. Poke the potato to allow some of the egg to seep into the mashed mixture. Layer the cheese on top of the dish, lightly submerging the cheese into the egg mixture.

Cover pan and fry this gently on a low heat. While cooking shake the pan to loosen the tortilla from the base and tidy the edges up with a wooden spoon. Do not over cook. The middle is meant to remain runny and gooey...well, sort of.

The egg will start setting, as this happens place a plate over the pan, a large enough plate to cover the pan substantially, and with a quick coordinated movement of both wrists, flip the tortilla over onto the plate and slide back into the pan to cook the underside. If you are using a tortilla pan, simply secure the top lid to the bottom, hold handle firmly and flip in a quick motion. Keep shaking the pan lightly so the tortilla does not stick to the bottom.

Once it feels firm on the edges and soft in the middle (after about 2 minutes) then slide the tortilla back onto the plate. For the brave heart you can do the flip again if you wish. Let the tortilla rest for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Cut into cake slices or cubes.

Janaritu! Coma!

If you have any favorite cultural dishes that are meaningful to heart and belly, please send them my way. I would love to post some other dishes to share.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Salmon and Salad ~

Now that we are sweltering in the summer heat cooking inside the house is just not a real option on a hot evening, so I've reclaimed my BBQ and loving it all over again. I could really spend every day of the year (granted, I'd be cooking 6 mos. of the it in snow boots) outside on my patio, BBQ-ing and enjoying my yard. I love eating outside - there's something so free and spontaneous about setting the patio table for dinner, placing some fresh-cut flowers on the table and snipping off fresh basil from my little garden to garnish any dish. I'm just an outdoor gal - that's all there is to it.

I'm also a big fan of Sunset Magazine and I've noticed more recently that many of their wonderful recipes are gluten-free, or can easily be adapted to be gluten-free. So when I invited my lovely mother over for dinner last week, I decided to try out a new salmon recipe from Sunset. It's mix of hot and cool just called out to me and it seemed so healthy and fresh...oh, it was. It was pretty simple to prepare and very low-fat and packed with great Omega 3's and protein.

As I was preparing this meal with my mom I declared..."okay, I want to win the lotto and go to cooking school and spend my days creating amazing food in my kitchen"...I'll keep dreaming big...and it would help if I actually purchased a lotto ticket. In the meantime, there are a thousand recipes I would like to try. Speaking of - I subscribe to a blog called, GOOP.
It's the brain-child of super-star mom, cook, soon-to-be cookbook author, Gwyneth Paltrow. Her latest post was filled with amazing cookbook suggestions for summer reading. I was so excited that I filled up my Amazon shopping cart...I have yet to hit the "purchase" button, however. Take a look at her suggestions - some real winners. I'm definitely purchasing the "Urban Pantry"...the cover itself is just so appealing to me.

Grilled salmon with cucumber salad ~ (Gluten-free)
Serves 4/35 minutes

- 1 Cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I used non-fat plain Siggi's Skyr)
- 1 Tbsp. each chopped from dill and extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tsp. lemon juice
- About 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/8 Tsp. pepper

Cucumber salad:
- 1/2 lb. Persian or English cucumbers (2 large)
- 2 Tsp. each chopped chives and flat-leaf parsley
- 1 1/2 Tsp. minced shallot
- 2 Tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 3/4 Tsp. lemon juice
- 1/8 Tsp. each kosher salt and pepper

Salmon and serving:
- 4 sockeye salmon fillets (each 5 - 6 oz., 1/2 to 1 in. thick), with skin
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/4 Tsp. each salt and pepper
- Fresh dill sprigs

Make sauce:
Combine yogurt, dill, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl
Cover and chill until used.

Heat grill to medium-high (about 450)

Make salad:
Cut cucumbers lengthwise into paper-thin strips, preferably with a mandoline (I used a knife). Put in a bowl with herbs and shallot; chill until used. In another bowl, mix oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper; set aside dressing.

Prepare salmon:
Rub all over with oil and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Fold a 12 x 20 sheet of heavy foil in half, crosswise. With knife tip, pike dime-size holes through foil about 2 in. apart. Oil one side of foil.

Set foil with oiled side up on cooking grate (BBQ). Set fillets slightly separated, skin side down, on foil. Grill, covered, until fish is cooked through, or to desired liking. Carefully remove skin with spatula and discard.

Discard any liquid from cucumber mixture in bowl, then quickly toss mixture (yogurt) with dressing and immediately mound on fish. Garnish with fresh dill sprigs. Serve.

Fresh Salad with egg:

In getting back to my Euro-roots, I whipped up a yummy salad that I ate last summer in Geneva - mmmmmm The photo is missing the "egg on top" shot but try to envision.

I really enjoyed the mix of textures, fresh veggies, topped with two pan-fried eggs, then drizzled with your favorite balsamic. So light and fresh and yes...French.

Simply mix your favorite lettuce in a bowl, chop a perfectly ripe Heirloom tomato into quarters, toss in feta cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

In a small frying pan, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil, then fry two organic eggs. When they are cooked to your liking, slide them on top of the salad. They will lightly melt the feta. Then drizzle balsamic on top - Delicious - I promise.

Enjoy life - food, wine, family and friends...

they fill up our tummies and our souls!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Gluten-Free Pizza - Yum ~

After our Triathlon last weekend, my body was longing for some carbs. I had been told by someone at the Whole Foods deli counter last week that they were now making gluten-free pizza dough (rice) and pizzas made-to-order. Wow. My world just became a little bit brighter.

We decided to give this pizza a try, so I went to the Whole Foods pizza counter and spoke at length with one of their employees. He told me that the dough is made of rice flour and is 100% gluten-free. They are creating 10" rounds that come standard with mozzarella, and then you have three pizza sauces to choose from. The pizzas are custom made-to-order at the counter, and can either be baked at WF or you can take it home to bake in your own oven, which I did. The dough can also be sold separately, so customers can simply take it home, roll it, dress it with toppings and bake on their own. I was told that they keep the dough in a separate area and went to another kitchen in WF to prepare the pizza. I opted to take the pizza home and bake it in my oven which I know is 100% gluten-free. Our WF here in Reno is doing a great job stocking a lot of gluten-free items, however, they state right up front that they are NOT a gluten-free facility, so you always have to keep cross-contamination in mind.

I would like to further-research where they are baking the GF pizzas; are they in the same oven as the regular flour-dough pizzas, or have they designated a separate oven? So until I have that answer clear in my head, I'll keep baking them at home. And the price - it was very reasonable. Surprisingly, our 10" with three toppings (artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and ham) and the choice of garlic/tomato sauce with mozzarella was only $15.00. I've purchased GF pizzas in San Diego that were only 8" and ran somewhere in the $20-something this was also a pleasant surprise, and dangerous...I have to ration my pizza runs now!

The pizza was quite delicious and I enjoyed the crust - I bake my own pizzas, creating the dough at home via an easy recipe I posted last year, but this crust had a lovely crispness to it - and held it's form quite nicely. The toppings were fresh, healthy and I really liked the taste of their mozzarella cheese and the way it bubbled and cooked to a yummy "real pizza" consistency, especially around the crust. So yeah, it was a little bit of Heaven and felt like a real treat to go order a pizza at the counter, shop for 20 minutes and pick it up...dare I say, it kind of felt "normal"...

I would like to hear from those of you who give this Whole Foods pizza a try and hear what you think about the quality, consistency, toppings and price.

If this weekend's heat and lazy summer attitude prevents you from whipping up a storm in the kitchen, you now have the option of a quick and delish pizza - all you really need to do is pick some fresh lettuce and veggies from your backyard garden and drizzle on some olive oil and balsamic!

Happy Summer eating~

Friday, July 2, 2010

Quinoa Salad for your 4th Picnic ~

Happy July 4th weekend!

Wow, seems strange even writing that date, but given how fast the year seems to be flying by I guess the holiday is already upon us, along with some warm weather - finally!

I attended a friend's BBQ this week and had whipped up a tasty Quinoa dish to share that you can serve either warm or cold, which makes it perfect for picnics and outdoor dining. After our Triathlon in Graeagle, CA this Sunday, I'll be serving this dish at our picnic and scarfing it up for some much needed post-race nourishment, and because it's the highest protein of all grains!

I was always a huge brown rice fan, but now that I've leaned about the joy of quinoa and it's healthful benefits and yummy, nutty flavor, I'm hooked. Sorry brown rice.

Give this dish a try. It's simple, delicious and gluten-free.

Quinoa Veggie/Feta dish~

Serves 6

- 1 Full cup of Quinoa (I love Ancient Harvest Traditional Quinoa - found at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods)

- 1 Large zucchini or 2 small sliced (more on the thin side)

- 1/2 Large yellow onion chopped

- 1/2 Cup baby tomatoes (colored variety)halved

- 1/2 Cup of fresh Feta cheese

- 1/4 Cup of chopped walnuts

- 1 Tbsp. organic garlic salt

- 2 Tbsp. olive oil

- Salt and pepper to taste

Follow directions on quinoa box, but after you bring to a boil, let simmer for 12-15 minutes until all the moisture has cooked out. While quinoa is cooking, saute chopped onion in olive oil and garlic salt. Add zucchini slices and saute until cooked and onions are transparent. After they are cooked, set aside. Chop baby tomatoes in half and place in large serving bowl. Then add the quinoa and stir together. Then add onions and zucchini and feta cheese. Mix together to blend all ingredients. Dress top of dish with walnuts and another tablespoon of feta. Serve and enjoy!

Happy 4th of July!!

Be safe and celebrate being the joys of being an American!