Thursday, April 16, 2009


I've been eating a lot of rice since I went gluten-free three years ago. I had always liked rice; we ate lots of it growing up when my mom was going through her "stir-fry" phase. It's really soothing to your digestive tract and low in fat. But it was always something that I never really wanted to cook. It seemed too complicated and easy to screw up, especially brown rice. But then I discovered some short cuts, I'd like to share with you.

Rice steamers rock. When I was just out of college, I lived in a loft in Williamsburg with a roomate named David. He was Chinese and his family owned a Chinese restaurant in Maryland. He had a rice steamer and he used it everyday. He just put the rice in with the appropriate amount of water, plugged it in and 20-30 minutes later, he had perfect rice. It shut off when the rice was done. And if dinner wasn't ready yet, he just kept the steamer plugged in and the rice stayed warm.

I wanted one, but I'm a white boy with entitlement issues so I bought myself a fancy-schmantzy Braun rice steamer thinking that if I liked David's cheapo rice steamer, I'd LOVE my Braun. No. The Braun just didn't satisfy. First off, it was huge. If I made just enough rice for me and a friend, it would burn because it all formed a thin layer on the bottom of the reservoir. It also kept the rice too warm. If you didn't unplug it in time, it would keep cooking. So much for elitist German technology.

Finally, I went to a dollar store and bought a no-frills "Aroma" rice steamer. It was, like, $13 and some change. This was three years ago and I'm still using it almost every day. It's small enough to do 1-2 servings of rice at a time (but could easily make 8-10 servings, if you wanted). Alton Brown, who I adore, hates rice steamers because they are "uni-taskers". In other words, they are only good for one thing and take up space in your appliance graveyard. But for me, this is not like a bread baking machine, a fondue pot, or something else you'd use but once a year. Rice is a staple in my diet so I don't mind buying its own separate appliance. Plus you can do other non-rice-related things with the steamer...according to the instruction booklet...which I haven't really read yet, to be perfectly honest.

So when I'm cooking a meal for just me, I take out my rice steamer, put a half cup of rice inside it, add a cup of water and a pinch of salt, plug it in and forget about it while I make the rest of my meal. (If I'm making brown rice, I double the water.) Sometimes I add some minced sundried tomatoes, some frozen peas and/or some miso or chicken stock for extra flavor. What could be simpler?

But wait, it CAN be simpler. I had this boyfriend named Mario who had many great qualities but had no idea how to cook. He was raised by nannies. My friends and I would make fun of him because he'd say, "I'm going to make a homemade Caesar salad" and this meant that he'd buy some romaine, some bottled Caesar dressing and some Pepperidge Farm croutons and then make me wash the lettuce because he didn't know how.

But then he did this other thing that I thought was really weird at first but I soon began to recognize its simplistic brilliance. When he made "rice and beans", he'd buy steamed rice at a Chinese take out place and use that. It would cost two dollars for a quart of rice, it took them a minute or two for them to give it to you straight from the industrial size steamer they have in the kitchen, it was always perfectly cooked and they even had brown rice.

I realize that Chinese restaurants are enemy territory for Celiacs with all that soy sauce flying around, but the steamed rice is usually kept in a separate steamer and doesn't mix with the other foods. I've never had a problem with it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Portability and elasticity

Have you even noticed that when you are eating a gluten-free sandwich, you are usually holding it nervously with two hands lest it falls apart? Or that you eat most gluten-free pizza with a knife and fork?

Portability is a huge issue for celiacs. Gluten -- the stuff we avoid -- is the ingredient in dough that gives it that wonderful elastic quality. When you take a slice of Wonder Bread and squeeze it into a nice ball, that's the gluten at work. Take a slice of gluten-free bread and try the same thing. It crumbles in your hand, right? Because there's no gluten in it.

That's also why so many gluten-free breads are so darn heavy and contain more calories. A slice of glutenous bread will hold it's shape in a sandwich because of the elasticity that the gluten brings. But in order for a slice of gf bread to keep it's shape, it has to bulk up to an almost brick-like density.

And what this means is that when you are on a gluten-free diet, there are less foods available to you that "travel." Sandwiches and pizza are popular American foods because you can eat them with one hand while you do a variety of other activities. Gluten-free foods aren't just a bitch to prepare, they are also harder to eat on-the-go. Ever since I started avoiding gluten, a lot of what I eat requires a knife and fork and for me to actually sit down. That wonderful rice dish I made last night with chicken and vegetables cannot be consumed while I run down the street on my way to the subway with my cell phone in my other hand.

But maybe that's a good thing. One of the reasons the French are so much healthier (OK, thinner) than Americans despite the fact that they consume all sorts of "no-nos" such as foie gras, wine and cheese, is because they take their mealtimes seriously. They don't eat on the go. They sit down for proper meals and don't snack in between them. When I went gluten-free, I immediately lost twenty pounds. A lot of people thought that my weight loss was due to the fact that I was eating less carbs as a result of the gf diet. But I was eating plenty of carbs: potatoes, rice, gf pasta, sugar, etc. What I wasn't eating were portable foods like sandwiches and pizza. I was cooking for myself more and sitting down to eat what I made.

Something to think about...

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I was shopping at the K&Y vegetable stand on my way home from the gym and I noticed some fennel up front. I've long known about fennel's aromatic, carminative, diuretic, stimulant, and stomachic properties, but I've never tried cooking with it before. I had some boneless pork chops in the fridge so I sauteed everything together with some, garlic, onion and diluted brown rice miso paste. It was delicious and really easy to prepare. I put the recipe up at Epicurious. I also hear you can slice fennel thinly and add to salads.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Matzah Ball Soup

This is my favorite gluten free matzah ball soup recipe. It's an Epicurious member-submitted recipe that I tried last year. Instant Mashed Potato flakes are substituted for matzah meal. At first I thought it sounded like a crazy idea and when I started mixing everything together, I thought I'd made a huge mistake even trying it. It was so yellow and gooey and impossible to manage. But when it cooked it made an impressive ball. I can't wait to do it again this Passover. I like to make my own chicken stock too.


You know how the only gluten free bar on the market was the Lara Bar? Well not anymore. Last week I was at my local deli and by the counter they had the ThinkFruit Bar. And now I'm seeing them everywhere: the health food store, Trader Joe's etc.

I happen to like the whole "dried fruit and nut" combo that the Lara Bar had going on. It's like solid "gorp". But it's easy to get sick of the flavors if you eat a lot of them. The ThinkFruit bar is pretty much the same principle: dried fruit and nuts. But it also has lofty claims of superfood-like nutritional value. They are tasty and a welcome competition to the Lara Bar. I particularly like the "Chocolate Pomegranite" one. It has a really rich cocoa flavor.