Monday, July 21, 2014

Not Like When I Was a Kid: Gourmet Camping Part 1

Camping! For some people the very thought of it send chills up their body. Bugs. Things that make sounds in the night. Only a thin layer of fabric separating you from the elements – and from the world.

But for me camping has pretty much always had positive memories.  I remember going camping with my mother when I was a preteen.  Something about that camp stove and the special camp cooking set that mom always lugged around was magic. Oh, that and the fact that she would bring the individual box cereals for breakfast. That was the only time I got sugared cereals!  A special treat.

I always loved camping and being outdoors. You seemed to always sleep so soundly with the sounds of nature. I also love the smell and feel a roaring campfire. It's so nice to sit around a hot fire and feel so cozy. Also s'mores, I love toasting marshmallows. I remember my Grandfather teaching me the proper way to perfectly brown the marshmallow so that the inside was gooey and the outside lightly crisp.

So I still love camping.  But I have to say, my approach to camping has changed. It’s now what I might label as gourmet camping. Yes, that all the down and dirty get your tent put up, sleep on the ground (OK, it’s a luxurious air mattress now).

BUT with fantastic food.

One of the things I have learned on a camping trip is that you must not expect too much from the first meal.  If you’re like me, you always leave later than expected. And it always takes longer than anticipated to construct the camp site.

So on my latest camping trip, I quickly jettisoned the planned meal and went with something simpler . . . yet ever so tasty.

Part of the food was prepared.  My mother had made the day before some fresh gazpacho and brought it along.

So after we had erected tent, cooking canopy, located wood and washrooms, and locked up our bikes, we were tired and hungry. So gazpacho was a great start to a simple meal.

The gazpacho, one of my favorite dishes that mom makes, comes with an avocado and red onion garnish!  And, we just happened to have a few tortilla chips along, so these went along well.

And, we had some leftover spicy sangria with grilled fruit, from my appearance on WCIU’s "You and Me This Morning".  Ahhh. Perfect combo.

Still hungry but not wanting to cook too much, we warmed a couple of baguettes—a gluten-free one for mom, over the fire. And then “baked” brie.

Eating baked brie with bread and fruit was always a favorite simple meal for my mom and me. I just put the brie wheel in a baking pan (best to use an old one that you don't mind putting on the fire), wrapped tin foil of the top and put it on the grate over the fire to cook/melt. It's best to keep turning the pan to make sure the heat gets all around. Cook till the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Hot bread. Baked brie. And freshly sliced fruit.  Simple. Satisfying.  What I hadn’t expected was what a wonderful smoky flavor the Brie would take on in this process.

By this time it was dark.  There weren't that many dishes to do since we hadn’t cooked much. So soon we could crawl into sleeping bags for the night.  Tomorrow the real cooking would begin.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Summer Drink

There's lots of things I think of  when summer comes along for drinking. Iced tea. Lemonade. Mojitos. Margaritas.

Doesn't mean you can't drink them in other seasons. But summer is a perfect time for drinking.
And that's how I feel about sangria.  So here's a rerun of my Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria.

And here's the recipe.

Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria

Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria

750ml bottle of a spicy red wine (Syrah, Shiraz, Tempranillo)
4oz orange liqueur
4oz brandy (plus additional for fruit to soak in)
4oz-5oz. spiced simple syrup (recipe below)
2 cups grilled chopped fruit (see below) macerated in additional brandy and/or liqueur
2-4 dashes of hot sauce ( I prefer Cholula hot sauce)
In large pitcher, pour in the wine, orange liquor, brandy, and spiced simple syrup. Add in the grilled fruit, a few dashes of the hot sauce and refrigerate till cold. To serve, pour sangria over ice in wine glasses and enjoy!

Fruit for Grilling

(These are just suggestions, feel free to enjoy any local and/or seasonal fruits that you like)
Lemons, oranges
Cut your choice of fruit into slices. Put into oiled grill or greased grill pan. Grill the fruit till it has nice grill marks. Take off of grill and chop into bite sized pieces. Put fruit into bowl with some additional brandy. Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight in the refrigerator. This will let the fruit soak up the brandy.
Spiced Simple Syrup
1 stick cinnamon
2 full pieces star anise
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. red chili flakes
½ tsp. chopped crystallized ginger
½ c honey
½ c water
Put all the ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Strain, then use as desired.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sometimes it’s just fun

I decided to try this just for fun.

I spied a photo on the internet of what claimed to be a watermelon cake.  Covered with whipped cream and fruit and slivered almonds.

Great, I thought. I can do that.

So I cut up a watermelon on a rectangular log shape (Cutting off the rind).

Then I whipped up some whipping cream.  I’ve shared my version for a special whipped cream on an earlier blog post.  I did some substitutions, however. Instead of sugar, I used agave syrup  (1/8 to ¼ cup, depending on how sweet you want it).  And instead of the ginger cream I used before, I substituted a few drops of orange blossom water.

NOTE: It may be a little challenge to locate the water.  If you are in the Chicago area, you can purchase it at Caputo’s Fresh Markets.

Here's a couple of hints about making this. When you've cut your watermelon log, put it in the fridge for a half hour or more.  The surface needs to dry off a little so the whipped cream will stick well. Also, once you have the whipped cream on, put it back in the fridge (or freezer if you are in a rush) and let it set up nicely.  Then store in fridge until time to serve.

The result?  It was pretty. It tasted good. And it was a light end to a meal. Maybe something to try on Fourth of July. Or any of those other picnics coming up this summer.

This is a great light dessert. Perfect to satisfy the gluten intolerant, the dieter, the person avoiding sugar.  Now,  I admit. This wasn’t vegan.  The version I made.

But it easily could be, by following the recipe to make whipped coconut cream topping. That I posted earlier.

Happy picnicking.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is Fast Food Breakfast Going Too Far?

Taco Bell will soon be serving breakfast! Yes, it’s true.

When I first heard the news my mind pictured a chaotic Wall Street scene with ticker tape flying everywhere. People scurrying around and making phone calls urging their clients to buy stock in Tums and Imoduim. BUY, BUY, BUY!

Second, I pictured a shy, quivery boy at a spelling bee:

Spelling Bee Judge: “Your word is diarrhea.”

Boy: “Um, er, ah. Can I have it in a sentence please?”

Judge: “Ingesting ground beef or sausage in a waffle along with a powdered egg substitute for breakfast caused Jimmy Jo Jo severe stomach cramping, which lead to a day full of diarrhea.”

Boy: “Diarrhea . . . T-A-C-O-B-E-L-L . . . diarrhea.”

The judges hold their mic’s with their hands as they whisper amongst themselves.

Judge: “Yes, we’ll except that.”

A little disgusting, yes, I know, but so is the thought of starting your day with Taco Bell. I’m aware fast food chains have been doing this for years, but at least places like, McDonalds give you some options like oatmeal and fruit. I mean, way to take a step backwards, Taco Bell.

Listen, I know I come across like a snide, but come on, man! They already have a slogan called “Fourth Meal,” which is, let’s be honest here, a campaign for stoners, drunks and the obese. From a business standpoint, I admire how they know and market to their clientele. As a human being and an advocate for healthier food options, what little respect I had for Taco Bell is gone with this breakfast bullshit, or as my friend Rogus calls it, “Fifth Meal.”

Well, this is America isn’t it? We are free to make our own choices. I’m not one to chastise the occasional fast food trip, but am I the only one who thinks this is a bit excessive? 

Check out the crap-tacular menu items here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi

I'm a huge fan of sushi, so I was instantly drawn to the title of this movie: Jiro Dreams of Sushi. On top of that, the title has sort of a whimsical food feel to it. I also choose this movie because of some friends rave reviews of it.

 Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is a 2011 American documentary about master sushi chef Jiro Ono who is the 85-year-old owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-Michelin star restaurant in Tokyo, Japan.

 The film starts slow, but draws you in with the vivid imagery of the sushi and the passion of Jiro for the sushi.  He has been making sushi for most of his life--it is his destiny. I was just drawn in by the amazing dedication to his craft and how much time and energy goes into each piece of sushi. His sushi is in essence very simple, yet so much preparation, time and energy goes into each piece. The people working for him (one of whom is his eldest son) work so hard to produce food that is to his liking. They work to please him more than anything.

It is a simple film and easy to follow. But it full of beautiful moments filled with unique music that helps to focus the simplicity and beauty of the sushi. The sushi, the fish is the main focus of the film, even though it is about Jiro.

As a chef, I am drawn to the amazing simplicity of his dishes and how completely delicious they taste and the amount of time it takes to prepare them. Each ingredient is poured over with skill, time, love and passion. In this film, less is truly more, both about the sushi and the man. He is great and small, but Jiro just works to make the sushi great.

Also, I am amazed at the age of this chef (85) and that he is still going and that it is his life to make sushi, to constantly make it better.  Jiro is always trying to improve his craft and he feels it is his duty to do so. This humbles me and inspires me to do more.I have done some work with sushi, but very little and I know it takes years and years to even perfect the making of sushi rice and more for the sushi preparation.

My personal first attempt at making sushi years ago.

For a meaningful, tasty, serious, and beautiful story about sushi and life you must watch Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. It is a movie that will change your life or your view of food, hopefully for the better. Also, it will leave you wanting to order sushi on grub hub or dash out to your favorite sushi restaurant immediately after the film.  

This film is available both on Netflix as a DVD or can be streamed online through both Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Happy watching!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sandwiches: what's on the outside?

What do I miss most about my old life? Back in the days when I could eat gluten? Well, I have to say it must be sandwiches. 

I began to realize, when I started my lifestyle change, that I ate sandwiches often. And liked them.
That all came to a screeching halt when I reluctantly gave up gluten. But then I started missing them.

Oh, for sure, I found I could have a lettuce wrap with tuna salad or egg salad, as a sandwich substitute.  But I have to be honest. It's always a bit messier.

So I began looking for gluten-free bread that would make a good sandwich.

The first thing I noticed is that many of the loves were, shall we say, rather petite!  Small square loaves. And they didn't taste very good, even if I toasted them.

Well, and that's another thing I missed on occasion. A nice slice of toast to slather with my homemade apple butter.

So after experimenting with loaves by companies like Schar, Food for Life, EnerG, Kinnikinnick Food, and Glutino, I circled back to the company I highlight last post: Udi's.  And especially Udi's Whole Grain Bread.

And guess what?  I'm not the only one who thinks that.  A taste test by Huffington Post ended up with Udi's Whole Grain on top!

So that means I can still have a slice of toast or a sandwich on occasion--and enjoy it!

If you are exploring gluten-free breads, have you found one you thought was great?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who Needs the Girl Scouts: Sandwiches to Go Nuts About

IT’S COOKIE TIME! I love to find fun, warm baking projects in the winter to help warm the whole house up. On top of that, I was having a total sweet tooth moment. I looked in my pantry and there it was…peanut butter!

As you know, now is the time for those tempting and addicting Girl Scout cookies. My favorite cookies were the peanut butter sandwich cookies (of course).

So I decided to give myself a challenge. Why not try to make them both vegan and gluten- free, so all my friends could enjoy them? And they turned out awesome! 

They are soft and chewy and quite decadent. These are super easy to make and a perfect way to make a vegan/gluten intolerant friend very happy-- or just about anybody happy. I recommend enjoying these with a nice big frosty glass of almond milk, or your favorite milk. 

Makes about 12-15 cookies


1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup oat flour (you can make this by pulsing oats in a food processor till it’s more flour-like)
1 tsp baking soda
teaspoon salt
¼ cup water

1.     Preheat oven to 350 F
2.     In a mixing bowl, cream together peanut butter and brown sugar till creamy (about 1 minute).
3.     Add in vanilla and beat for 1 more minute.
4.     In separate bowl combine oat flour, baking soda and salt.
5.     While mixing peanut butter mixture, slowly add in flour mixture till crumbly. Then add in the water and beat till combined. Do not overbeat the mixture.
6.     Line sheet pans with either silpat mats or parchment paper.
7.     Roll dough into round balls, about 1- 1 ½ tablespoon of dough each.
8.     Then taking a fork, do a criss cross pattern on top of each dough ball to flatten out and give it a neat pattern.
9.     Bake 8-10 minutes. Make sure to not over bake these.
10.  Once fully cooled, pipe or spread vegan peanut butter frosting on the bottom side of a cookie*
11.  Then place another cookie, bottom side down on top of the frosting to form the sandwich cookie.
12.  ENJOY!

*For best results, I recommend only adding the frosting right before you serve them. The unfrosted peanut butter cookies will last for about a week in the refrigerator and about a month in the freezer. But really, I don’t think they will ACTUALLY last that long without being gobbled up.


1 cup vegan margarine (I like to use Earth Balance)
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3-4 tablespoons almond milk ( any non-dairy milk will work too)

1.     In mixing bowl, cream together the margarine and peanut butter till it’s nice and creamy.
2.     With the mixer going, slowly add in the powdered sugar.
3.     Then add in vanilla. Then add in the almond milk and mix till it has a nice soft whipped consistency.
4.     Now it’s ready to make the peanut butter sandwich cookies.