Monday, August 24, 2009

Quiche Lorraine
with Spinach and Mushrooms

Birthdays were always extraordinary in my family growing up. My mother made them into really wondrous occasions (especially when we were small) involving special presents, clothes, foods, friends and activities. She celebrated the mere fact that we were alive with absolute joy, which is darn sweet considering that she was the one who should really have been getting the presents from each of us! After all, she was the one who put in the hard work to give us life.

Somewhere along the way I internalized these birthday rituals as part of my personal code of living. Birthdays are special, because they remind us how lucky we are to have a certain person in our life.

Last week my husband celebrated his 35th birthday. He's a no muss, no fuss type of guy so it's rare that he actually wants anything specific for his birthday. H is genuinely happier to go hiking or for a ride on his bicycle than he would be to receive a fancy new watch or gadget. For this reason, I try to find ways to appreciate him on his birthday that I know will truly mean something to him.

Luckily, my man's heart is definitely in his stomach!

For his birthday this year, I decided to bake him a quiche. I don't know who said that real men don't eat quiche... because my father loved it and so does H. He especially loves Quiche Lorraine for its bacon. Usually I try to minimize bacon consumption in our house as I am hoping my husband will live a long life with clear arteries and a healthy heart. Still, every now and again the occasion calls for bacon or sausage... and this was one of those times.

Quiche is such a wonderful dish. Using the simplest of ingredients, you create a sophisticated masterpiece brimming with flavor. I invented this gluten free recipe for Quiche Lorraine working from three main ingredients my husband loves under all circumstances: eggs, mushrooms and bacon. From there, the ingredients seemed to suggest themselves one by one... caramelized onions, spinach, cream, crumbled cheese. They just made sense together.

My husband ate no less than three large slices of his birthday quiche for his birthday dinner. His main comment was that he wished I'd doubled the recipe and made two of them, since we managed to polish off the entire pan in one sitting. This heartfelt praise made me glow... and I feel so confident about this recipe that I expect that you will be glowing with pride too when you serve it with love to your family, friends or co-workers.

With a relatively fast preparation and cooking time, such a yummy meal doesn't have to wait for special occasions. It could be your comfort food after a long day at work, the dish you bring to exhausted parents caring for a new baby, or even your contribution to a potluck supper. You don't need a reason for quiche. Or shall I say, there's always a reason for quiche.

Quiche Lorraine with Spinach and Mushrooms

What You'll Need:

Italian Style Gluten Free Breadcrumbs (3-4 oz per glass pie dish)
5 eggs
6 strips bacon
1/2 cup crumbled sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 small onions
8 oz crimini mushrooms
1/2 bag baby spinach leaves
Sea salt (to taste)
Fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
Penzeys Bavarian seasoning (to taste, optional)

How It Works:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

While it is heating, grease a standard 9.5 inch pie dish (I use glass) with a thick layer of butter. Next, dust the entire dish liberally with your gluten free breadcrumbs, until there is a thin coating of breadcrumbs covering all of the butter.

It takes a little while to fry bacon, so I would recommend cooking your bacon on the stove in a separate pan while you begin the process of chopping the mushrooms and onions.

Using a very sharp knife, finely chop your onions and mushrooms. Depending on how much you enjoy the texture of mushrooms, you may also use a Cuisinart mini-prep machine to mince them for this recipe.

In a large saute pan, add a large glug of extra virgin olive oil over medium temperature. When it is hot but not smoking, add your onions and mushrooms. Stir frequently until onions begin to turn translucent. While the mixture sautes, season it with sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and Pensey's Bavarian Seasoning to taste. (If you can't find Penzeys, consider whipping up your own mixture of crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and sage). Once the onions are a bit caramelized (and your mushrooms may have given off a good deal of liquid) remove the pan from burner and cover it.

You will need a large bowl in which to make the custard. Add the eggs, milk and heavy cream and blend it well with an electric hand mixer or fork. Set aside.

Now you are ready to assemble the quiche for baking. Take your greased pie plate full of breadcrumbs and layer the bottom with healthy handfuls of baby spinach leaves (about half of a standard pre-washed bag). Next, sprinkle your crumbled sharp cheddar cheese on top of the spinach. Pour the custard on top of the spinach/cheese mixture. Finally, crumble all the cooked bacon on top of the custard and allow it to sink slightly into the mixture.

Bake in your preheated oven for 30 - 40 minutes until its top has browned and your tester (whether toothpick or knife) has come out clean when dipped into the center of the quiche.

Serves 4 to 6 (two slices each vs. one larger slice each).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tasty, Gluten-Free and Fast!
Anti-Inflammation Breakfast Hash

When I was first diagnosed with gluten intolerance almost two years ago, it came as a real shock to me that I could possibly be having trouble digesting wheat - which was my absolute favorite food staple. I knew that some of my favorite foods (cheese danishes!) were not the healthiest, but I attributed that to their saturated fat or sugar content and never suspected the grain or gluten.

At that time, my doctor/nutritionist talked with me about the silent, chronic inflammation taking place in my body in the form of autoimmune thyroiditis. He explained how important it was for me to avoid the foods that caused inflammation in my gut, so that I could heal and reduce my TPO antibodies which were at that time off the charts.

Everything he said proved to be true - I followed his dietary and supplement suggestions and experienced a complete and perfect healing. Since then, I've been fascinated by what I've read about internal inflammation, and the foods that can help protect a person from silent long term inflammation that triggers serious diseases including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's.

The basic premise of the anti-inflammation diet is fairly simple. To protect your health, it is recommended that you:*

  • Eat a variety of whole grains plus fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts daily.

  • Indulge in the leaner meats, preferably chicken and fish.

  • If you must have red meat (like me!) consider buffalo or the leanest possible cuts of beef.

  • Stay away from saturated fats, processed foods, most dairy and sugar.

  • Make sure to get a good helping of Omega-3s every day, and don't forget that diet is only part of the picture.

  • Exercise and work on reducing your stress level

I have to admit, I was a little concerned at first about the emphasis on eating a "variety of whole grains". Since my diagnosis with gluten intolerance I have typically turned to rice in its many forms to meet my refined carbohydrate needs. Apparently I've been ingesting my fair share of empty calories. Still, other than quinoa, I haven't spent a lot of time experimenting with other gluten free grains.

So... it's time for us to learn more about buckwheat, steel cut oats processed in a dedicated gf mill, and sorghum. I also need to focus on cooking for my family with brown rice rather than the nutrient-poor white kind.

I'm pleased to report to my gluten free readers that the anti-inflammation diet seems to go along very easily with a typical gluten free repertoire.
So far, following the guidelines hasn't required much change - just a heightened focus on where my food supply is coming from (do they use pesticides?) and the need to cook with less butter and cream.

This morning, inspired by my readings about the anti-inflammatory qualities of egg whites and turmeric, I decided to throw together a quick and delicious anti-inflammation breakfast hash. I'll probably keep experimenting with this one... use a little minced fresh garlic perhaps. Still, if you're looking for a quick and tasty meal that will give you lots of energy while reducing any hidden inflammation I think you will like today's result.

Anti-Inflammation Breakfast Hash

What You'll Need:

2 egg whites, combined with a fork (preferably from Omega-3 eggs)
3 oz of tinned trout in olive oil (salmon would be even better!)
1 large handful of rinsed baby spinach (preferably organic)
Turmeric (to taste)
Black pepper (to taste)

How It Works:

Heat a non-stick saute pan over medium heat for about a minute so that heat is distributed. Add the tinned trout in olive oil and use a wooden spoon to break up the larger chunks. Before the olive oil begins to bubble, add the two egg whites to the trout mixture and stir it all together into a hash. Remove spoon and allow to cook for a minute. Egg will begin to change color. Next, sprinkle in turmeric and black pepper to taste. (I personally use a big dash of turmeric and a small dash of pepper.) Stir well into the rapidly cooking egg/trout mixture. Finally, add the baby spinach leaves and integrate them well into your hash. Cook for approx 30 seconds to 1 minute until the spinach begins to wilt. Turn off heat under pan and allow it to sit undisturbed for about a minute to allow the flavors to set. Especially wonderful if eaten immediately...

To add a special anti-inflammatory "ooomph" consider serving with:

  • a side of fresh fruit

  • sliced fresh tomatoes

  • a mug of green tea

Serves 1-2.

*Guidelines from The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Anti-Inflammation Diet by Christopher P. Cannon, M.d. and Elizabeth Vierck

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gluten Free Molasses Cookies...
Comfort Food For Happy Kids
(and their anxious parents)

They say that fear is a great motivator... and if so, then today's parents must be the most motivated group of individuals who ever lived. Because frankly, there is so much out there to be afraid of if you love your kids. (And I'm just talking about food!)

I woke up this morning to an email from my GP explaining his thoughts about the currently proposed United States national health care legislation. He had a lot to say, in his own very articulate way. One of the key points that caught my attention early on in his message revolved around the risk of getting cancer in your lifetime. According to my GP, an average person in the year 1940 had about a 1 in 65 risk of getting some kind of cancer during the course of their lifetime. Apparently today that risk stands at 1 in 1.5 people (can this really be true!?!) and current projections indicate that within the next decade, every single person on the planet will develop some kind of cancer during their lifetime if they don't die from some form of accident or infection.

Now I haven't reviewed the fine print to his statistics. I assume that he must be including all forms of cancer in this number - so I'm guessing he is lumping benign skin cancers or other easily treatable forms of cancer in with the more serious stuff. Still... chills ran up my spine as I read his words. Two of my three small children were busy playing Legos by my feet and I couldn't help looking at them and wondering with a little despair, "Are both of you really going to get cancer some day no matter what I do?"

What a terrible notion. If you are like me, you would probably do anything and everything that you could think of to protect the people you love -- your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, friends -- from such a fate.

My doctor believes, as I do, that you are what you eat. Health begins and ends in the gut, and so as a mother I take feeding my children very seriously. I answered my doctor's call to arms today by worrying once again about the meals I am feeding my children.

Lately my second child, aged two, has been undergoing tests for a suspected food allergy. His diapers have been just awful for months. Our pediatrician and I went immediately for the celiac tests, given my own history. The bloodwork came back negative for an inflamation or immune response to wheat, so they are now running stool tests. We have begun the process of beginning an elimination diet for him... and will be eliminating all of the major allergens from his diet one by one for two weeks at a time. Two weeks of no dairy. Two weeks of no soy. You get the picture. Mommy (that's me) keeps a detailed journal of what he eats and how it affects his bowel movements. For me it means a lot more of what most celiacs are already great at - reading labels, looking for hidden ingredients, finding creative alternatives and watching to see how what you eat affects how you feel. Except in this case, I worry so much more about the results because the person feeling badly is a tiny, fragile child that I gave life to only two years ago.

The pressure that comes along with trying to keep little children eating a specialized, limited diet is intense - especially if you are working with a limited budget, which we are. The obstacles to success are also great. First of all, how do you convince the child to abstain from favorite foods that are bad for him or her? What small child doesn't want to live 24/7 on pizza, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese? How does a well-meaning parent explain to their child why they are the only kid who can't eat the cake at birthday parties? How can a parent be sure that teachers along the way won't "forget" and give their child 'forbidden' gluten, dairy, soy, etc. in the form of a little treat here and there? How can you be sure that well meaning people like grandparents, family friends and babysitters won't slip your kid something with an allergen?

Even if your kid doesn't have dietary restrictions or food allergies, it's still tough to keep them thriving on a healthy and balanced diet. Buying organic is tough on a shoestring. These days I usually resort to getting non-organic vegetables and fruits and then washing them really well with the special soaps that are supposed to get rid of pesticide residue. I feel guilty every time I feed the non-organic stuff to my family, but I would feel just as guilty and stressed if I broke the family budget during these tough economic times just to buy "fancy" groceries.

Then you have all of the conflicting advice given to parents from various experts. Celebrities and doctors on the television tells me that milk does a body good, but the blood type books of Dr. Peter D'Adamo tell me that milk is toxic for blood type As. Who do I believe?

Speaking of which... as I've mentioned in past blogs, my children have different blood types which necessitates that I follow different dietary guidelines for each of them. Doggone it, even though I keep a thorough list of what they can and can't eat in my purse, I keep messing up. Today I picked up three packages of unsulfured sweet mangoes for my little guy to eat since he can't have dairy for the next two weeks (which rules out most of his favorite desserts) and then found when checking his blood type list in the car that Type As should avoid mangoes. Doh! I've been feeding them to him for days now.

My last example relates to food processing... today I bought white rice flour to bake these cookies and I felt really great about baking gluten free... until I read that I should be avoiding processed grains altogether. Ack!

It's almost enough to drive a well meaning parent to drink... In my case, I found comfort in creating these delicious Molasses Crackle Cookies for my family from Elizabeth Barbone's lovely Easy Gluten-Free Baking.

Despite the fact that I used processed grains and granulated sugar, at least I can take pride in the fact that they are (a) gluten free, (b) dairy free, (c) delicious and (d) homemade with love for my children. I know it isn't everything, but at least it's a start, right?

I am so excited to sit with them on our back porch tomorrow, eating cookies while telling them stories from my own childhood... which seems so carefree in retrospect.

"When I was a little girl, my mother used to make me Bisquick pancakes with apples and cinnamon on weekend mornings. I loved to eat huge stacks of them while watching cartoons for hours. This was of course before anyone knew that wheat, sugar and dairy are slowly killing us and that apples are actually not approved for people with my blood type. No-one had yet informed my parents that television would rot my brain, lower my IQ and reduce my chances of going to college. Yep, those were the good old days..."