Lunch Recipe Formula

One of the fun parts about being gluten intolerant is that restaurants become a game of roulette. Even restaurants with “gluten free menu items” frequently screw that up, and I’ve gotten croutons on my gluten free salad before (after a specific request for no croutons). Salad dressings are a gamble – even vinaigrettes, if they’re from a bottle instead of made on site, since they often use thickeners.

The result: I don’t eat out much for lunch.

This means I need to bring my lunch every day. (I got a snazzy new grown-up looking lunchbox when I got my new job, specifically to be large enough to bring leftovers). The gluten free thing also means no sandwiches, and I’m very careful about bringing salads, because I am a giant clutz and always end up having to get oily salad dressing stains out of my shirts.

Alongside trying to eat small meals every few hours (which helps a lot with mood stability), this can be a little tedious, especially if it means cooking big meals every night so I have leftovers. While it’s pretty easy to have leftover chili, it’s harder with other things (like grilled vegetables, which SSH and I tend to just devour with abandon).

My solution recently has been to make a sort of casserole on Sunday with the express idea of eating it for lunch all week. While any casserole will do, one that doesn’t take much work is ideal. A baked (GF) pasta casserole does well and reheats well, as does my current favorite – roasted veggies and chicken.

Roasted Veggie Casserole

You need:

  • about 2lbs of meat, cut into 1” chunks (I usually use chicken breast or pork tenderloin, for a vegetarian version, try canned/cooked chickpeas)
  • Vegetables, cut up into roughly the same sized chunks – I’ve used red potatoes, sweet potato, carrot, beets, bell pepper, onion, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, garlic, asparagus, brussels sprouts; basically any veggie you can roast (tomatoes don’t do so well)
  • olive oil
  • white wine or chicken broth
  • spices and salt and pepper

This is basically a recipe shell. I don’t list any spices because you can really go nuts. I’ve made this Scarborough style (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme), southwest style (chili powder, cumin, oregano), Italian style (Italian spices, garlic powder, crushed red pepper), grilled style (grill seasonings of various blends).

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with no-stick spray. In a big bowl, dump all the meat and veggies, plus a few tablespoons of olive oil and a few sloshes of white wine. Add the spices and mix well. (Do not under-salt this.)

Dump the resulting mixture into the prepared pan, distribute evenly, and cover with foil. Bake at 400F, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 20 minutes, until you start to see some browned edges.

I usually leave this on the counter to cool until it’s lukewarm and then divvy it up into 5 small glass containers (like these little ones) and pop them in the fridge.  (Sometimes if I really fill the baking dish, there’s enough for a weeknight meal too) With a piece of fruit, you’ve got an excellent lunch that only takes a few minutes to get hot in the microwave and is remarkably good for you, with the added benefit that it is very neutral in smell (just the spices), so your coworkers won’t hate you for making the place smell like stale curried fish.

And it’s super tasty too!

This week’s version has chicken, new potatoes, zucchini, onion, bell pepper, and carrots, with Mrs. Dash “Garlic and Herb” plus a good bit of salt and pepper. Next week I’m thinking I’ll try an Italian version, maybe with pesto, garlic and tomatoes.

C is for…

There is something extremely rewarding when, after spending all morning being sad you can’t eat the bagels someone got for a meeting, or the tray of cookies leftover from a lunch conference, you suddenly realize that you brought your own cookie.

A gluten free cookie.

Because its a cookie kind of day.

Gluten Free Adjustment

I kicked gluten out of my house about 4 months ago. It still shows up on occasion (like at Thanksgiving, for a big shared meal), but other than that, I’ve been gluten free. Or at least, I’ve stopped BUYING anything with gluten in it.

I’ve not always been super good at not EATING anything with gluten. Sometimes it’s things I don’t even think about, like making pound cake for a friend and licking the spoon, only to have horrendous stomach trouble for the rest of the day. Other times I start eating something – like fried mozzarella sticks – only to realize halfway through the first one that it’s been breaded and fried. (And then have horrendous stomach trouble for the rest of the day, and sometimes the next two days as well.) Or, at the beginning, deciding I didn’t give a flying f-sharp and eating a cupcake (only go have horrendous… well, you know).

This last week I decided, since I’d been doing so well, to try a normal beer and see if I was ok. I’m not sure why I thought I would be, as beer is fermented barley mash, and barley contains gluten, but I love beer… so I tried.  Been sick for two days too. No more beer for me, unless it’s sorghum beer.

I’ve found that I don’t really crave a lot of things I thought I’d miss, like pasta (easy enough to make rice or rice pasta instead) or breakfast cereal (GF oatmeal woo!), or even cookies, which make up pretty easily with gluten free flours. And after getting really sick from most of those things, I find they’ve lost a lot of their appeal.

Bread, however, I can’t get away from. I love bread. I spent years getting good at making yeast breads.

And now I’m having to really think about this whole food allergy thing, and how I will never be able to eat those breads again.

Which is kind of huge.

I’ve had some decent gluten free breads too. They’re just not the same as wheat bread. They taste good; they have good texture… but they are different. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

When I started out this GF thing, it was all an experiment, a sort of side strategy to help with my joint pain and with my tummy troubles that my arthritis doctor said I should do for 3 months to see if it’d help. While I didn’t think it’d do much, I figured I’d at least try. I got past the freak out pretty quickly (about a week of freaking out, really), but it was always “I can do this for 3 months”. Even when I felt better, when I was finally having a normal relationship with my digestion* for the first time in my adult life, it was still “I can do this for 3 months”.

But it’s been three months, and I’m still doing it. And if my little beer experiment means much of anything, I’m going to still be doing it three months from now. And the three months after that.

I know I have it easy, that 10 years ago there was almost no support for people who couldn’t process wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. On the other hand, there’s a big perception that gluten intolerance is the latest fad diet**, and so many restaurants don’t take it seriously. Heck, for awhile I didn’t even take it seriously.

Three months later and I definitely take it seriously. I know what I can eat at restaurants (Asian and Mexican foods are my staples for eating out), and I know I have to plan in advance if I’m going to be able to eat on my lunch break and not have to eat noodle soup every day from the local Vietnamese place. I know where I can shop in the grocery store and what parts of the store I don’t even have to visit anymore.

As much as I’ve learned, though, I’m still feeling like I’m adjusting to a totally new way of food. After all, “never” is kind of a long time to think about.

*For the record, it’s really nice not to have to plan my errands around which stores I visit after eating, and whether they have bathrooms I can tolerate.
**It’s a fad diet I kind of understand. For a lot of people giving up Gluten means giving up all processed foods and eating more fresh vegetables and lean protein – a change that would make just about anyone feel better if they’ve been eating a lot of processed junk. That said, there’s a difference between “feeling better” and the kind of gastric distress someone with an actual gluten intolerance (or a systemic histamine allergic reaction type allergy) will have.

Gluten Free Thanksgiving: Artichoke Gratin

Another borrowed recipe, this one from Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Her Baked Artichokes au Gratin is an amazing recipe, super easy, and though it’s not gluten free, the only gluten containing ingredient is breadcrumbs, which I easily replace with GF pretzels/crackers/Rice Chex that I pulverize in the food processor.

I double this recipe for Thanksgiving, since I’m feeding 10 people. Last year there weren’t any leftovers either!

Baked Artichoke Hearts Au Gratin with Green Onion, Parmesan, and Romano
(Makes 4 servings, but recipe can easily be doubled; adapted from Rose’s Baked Artichoke Hearts in Martha Stewart Living, November 2008.)

You will need:

  • 1 pkg. (12 oz.) frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, drained, and larger ones cut in half
  • 3-4 green onions, green part only, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs <- This is your GF Substitution Point, I like Rice Chex Crumbs in this recipe
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/3 cup mayo or light mayo (do not use fat free)
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tsp. zest and 2 T juice)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic puree

Preheat oven to 325F/170C. Thaw artichoke hearts in the microwave if they’re still frozen, then drain well. Cut larger artichoke hearts in half so they’re all about the same size.

Use olive oil to grease 2 small gratin dishes or 1 medium sized baking dish. (Medium = an 8.5 x 8.5 inch square baking dish. If you double the recipe, you’ll want to use a 9×13 pyrex baking dish) Arrange artichoke hearts in a single layer in the oiled dish, then sprinkle finely sliced green onions over the artichokes and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Mix together bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, and dried herbs. (If the cheese isn’t finely grated you might want to buzz it in a mini-processor for a minute or two.) Whisk together the mayo, lemon juice, lemon zest, and garlic puree; then mix in 1 cup of the bread crumb/cheese mixture. Use a rubber scraper to spread this over the top of the artichoke hearts, setting aside the rest of the bread crumb/cheese mixture.

Cover the dishes with foil and bake in 325F/170C oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and increase temperature to 375F/190C. Remove foil and sprinkle the remaining bread crumb/cheese mixture over the top of each dish. Put back into oven and bake about 25 minutes more, or until the topping is lightly browned, and the dish is hot clear through.

Serve hot and wait for compliments!