Saturday, December 28, 2013

(P)raising the bar … , Part 2

Who needs pecan pie?!

A short while back, I wrote a blog titled “(P)raising the bar,” in which I posted one of the best refrigerator bar recipes I have ever made. I found it on The Gluten-Free Resource Directory, where you’ll find countless wonderful gluten-free recipes for every kind of food imaginable. Called Primal Coconut Nut Bars, the recipe was created by Carly Shankman.

Since then many of my friends and readers have also praised (or panned, pardon the pun … and the alliteration) the recipe. My friend Linda Marshall made a few modifications to make it more suitable to her taste (without coconut). You can find the recipe in my November blogs, and here is Linda’s recent post:

“I made them yesterday and we love them! I subbed oatmeal for the dry coconut, used a mix of almond butter and maple butter, and used a combo of craisins and dried apples. Next time, I plan to add mini chocolate chips.”

Linda’s maple butter is Maranatha, and she purchased it at Wal-Mart. Of course, if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you’ll need to use gluten-free oats. I love the oats from Bob’s Red Mill.

In the meantime, here is another bar from a blog called Cassidy’s Craveable Creations titled Paleo No-Bake Pecan Pie Bars. If you like dates and pecans—Oh, Sweet Mother of Pearl!—you will love these! And they’re soooo easy!

So easy! I made them in my little
4-cup food processor.
Paleo No-Bake Pecan Pie Bars

1 C. Pecans, chopped
1 C. Medjool Dates, pitted (I used 9, soak in warm water 15 minutes if hard)
2 Tbsp. Coconut Oil, measured in solid form
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla
1 Pinch of Sea Salt
1 Tbsp. Honey

In a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, process the pecans until very finely chopped. Add in the dates, coconut oil, vanilla, salt, and honey. Process until everything is well mixed, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Line a baking pan or baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the mixture to the pan and use your hands to press into a rectangle about ½ inch thick. Place in freezer for 1 hour to set, and then cut into squares.

Sometimes I plan my day around eating these bad boys!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Joy from the World

Caro sent a German gluten-free cookbook!
I can't wait to try the Kaesespaetzle!

While the children were growing up, our family hosted several wonderful foreign exchange students. We loved them, laughed with them, learned from them--and suffered when they left us at the end of their terms. Two of them—Tomomi from Japan and Caroline from Germany—have remained especially close throughout the years. We’ve visited back and forth with them and enjoy sending gifts and messages on a regular basis.

This morning we opened Christmas packages from them, and—here’s how thoughtful they are--they both showed their love by being mindful of my gluten issues! I’ve never spoken directly with them about my celiac disease, but they gleaned that information from my blog or Facebook posts and put some real thought into the gifts they sent me! It’s that kind of consideration that made these young women perfect representatives of their countries when they were younger and the successes they are today.

Tomomi sent a package of Japanese "Rice Krispies Treats"  (Shown above). Yum!
And she even translated the contents, which were printed on the wrapper!

Today I would like to wish my readers—especially our foreign exchange students--a Merry Christmas and a Happy (Gluten-Free) New Year!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A first for me

Mine! All Mine! Prepared gluten-free by Fuji's hibachi chef,
all  the food on this grill belonged to me!

A few days ago, my husband’s family celebrated my father-in-law’s 85th birthday (and our nephew’s 33rd birthday) with a dinner gathering at Fuji Japanese Seafood & Steakhouse (located at 2909 S Campbell Ave. in Springfield, MO), a restaurant that features hibachi-style tableside grilling.

I wasn’t sure what might be in store for me, as far as gluten-free food was concerned, but Japanese restaurants generally have at least a few sushi offerings that I can eat. Gluten-free soy sauce can sometimes be a problem, however, so I threw my little GF soy sauce packets into my purse before we left.

Well, I needn’t have worried! The waitress and the hibachi chef at the restaurant were well informed about gluten issues. She asked me if I had celiac disease or if I were on a gluten-free weight loss diet. They are especially careful, if the customer has actual gluten intolerances. Many of their customers, she said, have gluten issues.

Now, if you have ever eaten at a Japanese steakhouse where the food is prepared at the table, you know that watching the chef is a large part of the treat. Egg tricks, onion volcanoes, and athletic knife-handling keep you entertained as you wait for your freshly-cooked food.

The huge serving plate was completely full!
In order to keep my food gluten-free, the chef prepared my food first on the clean hibachi—and, of course, he used gluten-free soy sauce in the process. My poor tablemates had to wait a little longer for their food, but they were very patient.  As I ate my fresh, hot stir-fry alone--no longer the second-class citizen I am accustomed to being, waiting for my fellow diners to finish their complimentary breads or gluten-containing appetizers--I think they rather envied me for a change!

Fuji does have a nice sushi menu, if you want to eat it as an appetizer or opt out of the stir-fry, but gluten avoiders can have just about anything on the menu prepared without gluten. The food was delicious, plentiful, and relatively inexpensive for the amount of food we received. I think most of us took at least half of our food home with us. (For me, it was enough food for dinner that evening and for lunch the next two days--and I can really put it away!)

Speaking of hibachi grills, the chain restaurant HuHot (located at the north end of the Battlefield Mall in Springfield) is also very careful to prepare food for those who can’t have gluten. They have a handout describing their foods and listing the various allergens. When you have collected the fresh ingredients and approved sauces from the food bars, you take them to the grill. They carefully clean the grill for you and cordon off a special area in which to cook your food.

While there is always some danger of cross-contamination in a food-bar setting—people might dip ladles in the wrong sauce or drop gluten-containing food into a pan of food that would otherwise be gluten-free--I have taken the risk several times and have never had a problem.

If Japanese food prepared fresh on a hibachi is one of your favorites, you don’t have to do without, just because you must eat gluten-free. And you might just get to eat first!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cafe Cusco … and I mean it!

Cafe Cusco, on the corner of Commercial & Robberson in Springfield, MO
My family and friends make fun of me because I tend to exaggerate: “That ice cream was the best I’ve ever eaten!” “I’ve never stayed at a better hotel.” “That was the most exciting tennis match ever!” If you know me, you’ve heard me--I can’t resist speaking in superlatives.

But this time I mean it, by golly! Springfield, MO can boast having one of the most terrific gluten-free restaurants anywhere! It’s a lovely Peruvian restaurant located at 234 E. Commercial Street called Café Cusco.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Springfield has many, many wonderful restaurants where people who are avoiding gluten for whatever reason can find a great meal. (I can’t say enough about many of the great restaurants along South St., for example. Check out my blogs titled “Eating gluten-free in downtown Springfield (MO),” “Springfield (MO) gluten-free restaurant update,” and “The Chain Gang”  for lists of my other favorites.)

Chicken Aji Verde
Café Cusco, however, has dedicated itself to serving healthy, tasty meals to people with celiac disease and other food issues—but, trust me, anyone, even the most eager gluten-eaters in the world, will find the food there worthy of raving about.  It’s co-owned by Joe Gidman and his mother Claire Gidman, and it grew out of Joe’s entrepreneurial spirit, his personal quest for a more healthy diet, and his travels in Peru.

What makes the place special for folks with celiac disease? For one thing, almost everything on the menu is gluten-free! Celiac sufferers will appreciate the fact that there is a footnote on the menu that says, “*cannot be prepared gluten free”—and on a menu of 43 items (yes, I counted them), there are only five asterisks! For another, there’s not a single bag of wheat flour on the premises, according to Joe. Their bread is made off-site so that there is no wheat flying around in the air contaminating the food.

I recently had lunch there, and after poring over the many interesting options, I chose the Chicken Aji Verde, which consists of chicken, peppers, and onions in roasted cilantro, garlic and onions with rice. Oh, yeah! It was wonderful! Five stars! Two thumbs up! You should have seen me wolfing it down!

Charming interior view of Cafe Cusco
Next time, I’m going to try the Cebiche Tacos (spring fed tilapia in grilled white corn soft tacos with lettuce, sweet pepper pico, crispy potato straws, Huancaina cheese sauce and salsa verde). Or maybe the Huevos Verde Sandwich (two eggs fried with cilantro aji, black olive spread, melted provolone and red onion salsa--to which you can add country pork--on a gluten free bun). Or maybe I’ll take the Tamal (an Andean tamale in toasted banana leaf with seasoned white corn masa, peanut and coconut oil, served with pico, salsa criolla and Huancaina cheese sauce. Or maybe … well, you get the idea. I’m just going to have to work my way through the menu.

And did I mention the atmosphere? A charming pub setting with tasteful, relaxing décor, great service, and comfortable seating. What more can you ask for? It’s the best cafe ever!

Café Cusco’s hours of operation are Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.