Monday, April 26, 2010

Share the Shirataki


The other night I came home late and needed to make a quick dinner for myself. I scanned the fridge and my eyes lit on a new gluten free item I had purchased called House Foods brand Tofu Shirataki Spaghetti Shaped Noodle Substitute (8 oz./$ 1.99). The word "Tofu" on the package may send others running towards the packaged cereal aisle, but since I visit the tofu case weekly, I was eager to try this product. What did worry me was the phrase "noodle substitute". The item looked like a noodle. I hoped it would taste like a noodle. Why couldn't it be called a legitimate "noodle"?

I grabbed the package and set to making my now famous spicy peanut noodles. Before Rosie was diagnosed with a peanut allergy I would make this dish almost weekly. Since then, never for the family, rarely just for me.

The "noodle" preparation instructions are fairly easy. You must first rinse the product well to get rid of its "authentic" aroma. I read that this is really a fishy aroma. I rinsed the ersatz noodles very well in a colander to avoid any unpleasantness. Then one can either microwave the product for 1 minute or parboil for 2. I chose the microwave (I was really hungry). As it cooked, I whisked together the dressing, and then dumped in the noodles when they finished cooking.

The noodles do have the appearance of Ramen-style noodles, and I thought they would work well in an Asian style dish like a noodle bowl or Pad Thai. Upon my first bite, I was struck by the texture. It was quite what I imagine rubber bands would taste like if eaten. However, I got past that and concentrated on the flavor. Like tofu, the flavor of the noodles are neutral---I did not taste any fishiness once cooked. They were the perfect foil for the peanut sauce.

Although I feel the price is high for the portion size, I do think the convenience and nutrition outweighs the price. As well, the Shirataki noodles are no more expensive than your average gluten free package of noodles. As far as nutrition goes, there are only 40 calories for the whole package, 1 gram fat, 4 grams fiber and 6 grams carbohydrates. That's pretty good in my book! I would like to see larger packages that are more appropriate for family sized dishes.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my noodle dish made with the Shirataki noodles, and especially enjoyed the ease and quickness of prep. I decided that Shirataki noodles could be the Ramen of the gluten free world!

This recipe won me a finalist position in a Crisco sponsored cooking contest. I didn't win, but the recipe is a "winner" according to family and friends. You may also substitute 1-12 or 16- ounce package gluten free brown rice spaghetti for the Shirataki noodles.

Spicy Peanut Noodles

2 - 8 ounce packages Shirataki noodles
1/3 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup gluten free soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
2 scallions, chopped

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, place in a large bowl and set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together next 7 ingredients. Pour sauce over noodles and toss well to coat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and scallions.

May be served warm, or cold. Toss before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Monday, April 19, 2010

Taxing Situation


I just finished typing what seemed like hundreds of numbers into Excel. The result was a sum of $417.72. This represented the amount spent on gluten free specialty foods in the past tax year (see for details on deductions). Lillie was diagnosed last March, so it doesn’t represent an entire tax year. In some cases, I had diligently circled the items on my receipt before throwing it into a flowered blue shoe box labeled “Gluten Free Groceries 2009”. In some cases I went through a couple of feet of grocery tape trying to decipher register shorthand like, “TNKY BR RICE LASAG”, and I remembered the quite good vegetarian lasagna I made with Tinkyada Brown Rice Lasagna Noodles. I was also struck by how many times “B & J DUB MDSLDE IC” (Ben and Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide Ice Cream) appeared on the receipts. This “stress” food was for me. Reviewing the receipts reminded me of the effort I put in yearly, weekly and daily to accommodate my the gluten and allergy free diets of my children.
After reviewing the receipts, I decided I needed to pray harder. I always pray for cures to my children's ailments. But I realized perhaps I should be more focused. The most realistic thing in the short term to make my life easier would be for Rosie to outgrow at least one of her allergies. Lillie is in it for life with her disease. I’ve been told “they” are working on a pill to manage celiac, and “cheer up”, it should be available around the time my daughter starts college (she’s 5). My hope was boosted though when I was talking to an adult celiac recently who spoke with Dr. Alessio Fasano , who is actively working on this project. He told me Dr. Fasano said the pill that would allow celiacs to safely consume gluten is in stage 3 of testing. Ignorantly I asked how many stages there are in the approval process. He answered 4. That was the most hope I had had in a long time. Although I know that final FDA approval once a drug is deemed “finished” by its developers can take 10 years. I discussed with this gentleman ,who has lived with the disease for about a decade, whether or not he would take the pill, since he manages the disease quite well with a diet. My concern is that there have been quite a number of prescribed drugs in recent years that have been taken off the market due to very serious side effects (even after all that extensive testing). He said he’s a patient man and would wait and see about 10 years if any side effects or detrimental outcomes result from long term use of the drug. His wife added that she would like him to take the drug, as it would make her life easier, referring to meal prep, of course. It’s a slippery slope, but this conversation did bloom my optimism.

After looking at our years worth of processed gluten free food items, I marvelled at all that’s available,, and reflected on those items that are naturally gluten free. I can’t declare a golden ear of sweet corn, locally grown, or a crisp green bean still standing at attention when cooked just right as a tax deduction. But, I can take pleasure in these items as they nourish the body, and reflect on how simplicity can be nourishing for the soul as well. G-d put many naturally gluten free items on this earth for us to enjoy. Not all things gluten free must be complicated.

I like my vegetables just fork tender, vibrant in color and not drowned in heavy sauces. A few sprinkles of sea salt, a drizzle of golden olive oil, perhaps, are all most vegetables need in my opinion. Enjoy the bounty that spring and summer brings, and enjoy what’s simple.

I love to use Ziploc brand Zip n' Steam bags to prepare vegetables. You can cook, marinate and store vegetables in these little gems of steamer bags. The package suggests putting an entire meal in the bag (i.e. protein and vegetable) and transporting the bag to work to cook in the microwave come lunch time. This is an excellent idea for the gluten free eater. No worry about cross contamination, as each bag is fresh, and contained to avoid any nasty drips or spills you may find in your office microwave. This can work well when going to someones house for a meal as well. No hassle cooking!

I’ve made vegetables as well as salmon in the bags and both worked well. I have an aversion to cooking chicken in the microwave as I find it always comes out rubbery-- but it could work with these bags. The recipe pamphlet included in the package claims you could make an omelet in the bag. I just had to try that. My goat cheese and mushroom omelet was indeed edible, if not terribly attractive. It reminded me of something I once received in an airplane meal. But cleanup was easy, as promised.

The following recipe works well for green beans as well.

Asparagus Au Vinaigrette

1 bunch fresh asparagus, checked for bugs, rinsed and patted dry
1 1/2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove fresh garlic, crushed
sea salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Using a steamer bag, stove top, or electric vegetable steamer, steam asparagus according to manufacturers directions.

Open bag, or remove asparagus from steamer container and allow to cool. Note: For extra crisp and green vegetables, plunge just cooked vegetables in a large bowl filled with cold water and ice.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour over asparagus (this may be done in steamer bag). Cover and shake container until asparagus is coated. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves: 4