Follow me on Twitter

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's For Dinner...At My House

Cathy and I both like to cook.  We cook because, obviously, it is healthier in general than eating out every day, but we also enjoy it.

This past weekend, we had our best friends, Jan and Leslie, over for dinner. The trick for us, of course, is to serve a flavorful gluten free meal for friends who don’t eat gluten free.  This is what Cathy and I set out to accomplish.

The first course was gazpacho.  I have to admit; I had never had gazpacho before, never wanted gazpacho before, and never planned on having gazpacho.  But ever since I saw the ad for the iPhone with Samuel L Jackson…y’know the one where he says “Hotspacho”…I have been intrigued.

After reading a number of recipes, I settled on a gazpacho recipe by Alton Brown.  As regular readers of my blog may have figured out by now, I am an Alton Brown groupie…I mean FAN…an Alton Brown FAN.  There were a few ingredients that I wasn’t sure were gluten free, so I checked on line at Gluten-Free Living.  Having confirmed all the ingredients were safe, I began cooking.

Having never made gazpacho before, or even knowing what it should taste like, I was a little nervous about making it. Once again, Alton did not let me down.  The soup was chunky with good texture.  It had a very slight bite from the jalapeno pepper that was in it.  Leslie, who loves gazpacho, said it was really good, so that excited me quite a lot.

The entrée was roast pork that is cooked in a slow cooker.  I found this recipe in the local newspaper so there is no link to it, but here is the recipe:

1 large onion sliced,
2-½ lb. boneless pork roast
1-cup hot water
3 tbl  red wine vinegar
2 tbl soy sauce (We use gluten free tamari)
1 tbl ketchup
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp garlic powder
Dash of hot pepper sauce

Put the onion on the bottom, put in the pork, add the rest of the ingredients, and cook 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high.  Easy, right?

The pork is tender and juicy, with all of the flavors flowing through the pork and the gravy, which is created.  You do need to watch it because you can overcook this, and if you do, it can be a little dry.  The best part is, the leftovers make unbelievable sandwiches!

Back to the Food Network for the side dish.  Claire Robinson has a dish called Twice Baked Rosemary Blue Potato Mash.  I know that in the past, there have been questions about whether blue cheese is gluten free.  I have been making this for a while, but only after doing some research on blue cheese did I feel comfortable making it.

Now here’s the thing…I don’t like blue cheese.  It seems people either love it or hate it.  However, these potatoes are fantastic.  I have served this to people who don’t like blue cheese, and they can’t stop eating it.  While blue cheese is the main flavor, the slight hint of rosemary and garlic pervades the rest of the dish.  Eventually, we had to take the potatoes off the table as Leslie and I spent the better part of dinner picking away at it.

You might be wondering about dessert.  Well, figuring that we would be pretty full, Leslie brought over some sorbet.  I went with the lemon flavor.  It was cold and creamy.

There are lots of wonderful gluten free recipes that have great flavor.  All you need to do…is look.  And it helps being an fan of Alton Brown's Good Eats.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kansas City Here I Come

Last week, I was in Kansas City, Mo on business.  I have stayed in Kansas City before, mostly in the area that they call the Power and Light District.  This area has funky shops, bars and restaurants, including one place that has various burgers made from different types of game.

This time, however, my group decided to stay downtown.  Downtown was actually very nice; as a matter of fact, downtown Kansas City was named one of the top downtown areas by Forbes Magazine.  Lots of shopping, clubs, bars, and restaurants all within walking distance.

Usually, we try to get to Jack Stack, as their BBQ sauce is all gluten free.  Much to my dismay, some other companies had booked both of the restaurants for the evenings we would be there!  Bummer! 
Our group administrator had heard some good things about the restaurant Plaza III.  A colleague of mine who has Celiac disease usually calls ahead for us, and made sure they could accommodate the two of us.  Sure enough, they could.

The décor was elegant.  Definitely, not some place you go in jeans...but I felt comfortable dressed in business casual clothes.  The waiter brought two baskets of crudités for the table, which was cool so my colleague and I had something to munch on while others ate the bread that came out.

I decided I wanted to have the filet mignon.  The waiter (whose name, believe it or not, was Angus…no really…) was quick to warn me that the seasoning they use on the filet has flour in it, but they could still give me the steak seasoned with salt and pepper.  That sounded fine to me!  As a group, we ordered sides to share.  Garlic mashed potatoes, lyonnaise potatoes, marinated mushrooms, and grilled asparagus, all gluten free.

The meat was cooked to a perfect medium rare on the inside, juicy, and not the least bit tough, with a very nice sear on the outside, which gave a slight crunch for texture.  The vegetables used for the sides and the crudité were extremely fresh.  The garlic mashed potatoes tasted just right to me, with a slight garlic taste, but not so much that your breath would knock over the person sitting next to you.  The skins were still on the potatoes for texture.  The lyonnaise potatoes were equally good with a nice flavor from the caramelized onions.

So, while I would still get BBQ if I could, I would also highly recommend Plaza III.

And now, for a musical interlude.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Restaurant Review - In A Pickle Restaurant

Not only do I love eating food, I love to read about it.  Anyone who describes himself or herself as a foodie should read the trilogy of books by Ruth Reichl.  She describes food so well, your mouth will water reading about why you should eat sushi, even if you didn’t like sushi to begin with.

Some books about food are better than others.  One of the better books is one I am reading now called Eat My Globe by Simon Majumdar.  For those who don’t know who Mr. Majumdar is, you might recognize him as one of the judges in “The Next Iron Chef.”

Essentially, this book is about the time that Majumdar decided to eat his way around the globe.  The book is very funny and very enlightening on different food around the world.

The chapter I am reading right now is when he is in the U.S.  As I was reading, the following quote caught my eye: “…but the restaurants I did visit came well recommended by locals and were packed to the rafters with diners who seemed happy enough.  The meals, though, were ordinary and fitted neatly into the identikit mold of midrange American dining.”  This is how I felt after eating at In A Pickle Restaurant in Waltham.

Look, I am loath to write anything that is not complementary about anyplace that does anything for gluten free diners.  But if I am to have any credibility with you – my readers – I guess I have to.

I chose this restaurant because they had gotten four stars in Yelp.  That being said, I noticed a lot of reviews ranging all over the place.  One would say the service was horrible, the next one would say the service was great.  One would say the servings were small, the next one would say the servings were huge.  When I looked at the menu, they had a lot of interesting omelets, but what really caught my eye was the buckwheat pancakes.  After double-checking to make sure buckwheat was gluten free, I felt we should give this place a try.

So off we went.  When we arrived around 8:30, there was already a line outside and we had a twenty-minute wait.  Usually a good sign.  We were eventually seated and our waitress came over right away with fresh coffee.  So far so good.

My wife ordered the regular waffles, loaded with berries and whipped cream.  Our friend ordered the buckwheat pancakes the same way.  I am a purest.  Just give me a plain waffle that I can put butter and syrup on, and I am a happy guy.

Now, I should say that I make waffles at home.  Before I became gluten free, I found a recipe on food network called Waffle of Insane Greatness.  After I had to go gluten free, I simply substituted King Arthur’s gluten free flour and some xanthan gum and they come out great.  And before I had to go gluten free, the waffles I would order out were always very good, so I was excited to see how good it was.

The waffle was ok.  There was nothing bad about it.  It tasted fine.  Bit there was nothing about it that made me go, “Wow!  Really delicious!”  It was a little soggy in fact.  No crispness, and by the way, there was no crispness to my wife’s waffle either.

I also ordered something called the Supreme Omelet.  It sounded fantastic.  It had ham and bacon, and mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes and broccoli.    I took a bite.  Again, there was nothing wrong with it.  But it was just ok.  As Darrell Sheets from Storage Wars would say, “There was no wow factor.”

Now, I do want to say that there are some very funky things on their menu that sound quite interesting and I would love to try them if I could.  Things like the Snicker cakes, which are pancakes that have Snickers cooked into them.  Sounds good to me!  Just can’t have them.

So while I would love to say I would go back again and again, I think I will stick with the Waffle of Insane Greatness.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Restaurant Review - Hungry Mothers

Every year, to coincide with March Madness, the Boston Globes website does something called Munch Madness.  They bracket 64 of the best/most popular restaurants in Boston and the surrounding area, and they let readers vote on them.  Just like in the NCAA March Madness tournament, the winners move on to the next round until there is an ultimate champion.  The last two years, a small southern inspired restaurant called Hungry Mother in Cambridge has won.  So, to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary, Cathy and I decided to have dinner here.

Hungry Mother has a relatively small menu.  The good news is, upon investigation, I found that they were quite gluten free friendly.  Many of the dishes are gluten free to begin with, and many others become gluten free if something like crostini is left off of the dish.

Downstairs there is a small area with two tables and a bar.  Upstairs is the main dining room with about twelve tables.  I must say the clientele is quite eclectic.  Diagonally across on my right hand side was a table of older couples.  The men were in dress shirts and slacks, while the women were in dresses.  Directly across from me was a young couple.  She was wearing a mini dress; he was wearing a polo shirt, shorts and flip-flops, while my wife and I were wearing something just short of business casual.

I have read various reviews mentioning that Hungry Mother’s bartenders are incredible.  However, Cathy chose to get their wine du jour, while I chose to go with sweet tea.  I mean, how could I go to a southern restaurant and not get sweet tea?  The tea by the way was just right, not overly sweet like it sometimes can be.

Both Cathy and I had the same appetizer, which was the New Orleans BBQ shrimp and grits.  We have tried shrimp and grits in many places, including the Pink House in Savannah and Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain.  This was unlike either of those.  This had a heat to it that you felt on the back of your tongue, but it wasn’t over powering on your pallet.  The Tasso ham brought some smokiness to the party, and some gluten free cornbread croutons brought a nice bit of crunch to the dish.

We shared the large skillet cornbread, which as I mentioned was gluten free.  It was very crunchy on the outside with good corn flavor, but was ever so slightly dry on the inside, though Cathy didn't think so.  That being said, it had very good flavor.  It was topped with sorghum butter, which I had never had before, but certainly can’t wait to have again.  I suspect it was sweet sorghum that was used.

For our entrées, I had the smoked pork shoulder and Pat’s clams.  Pickled peppers, ramps, hominy and potatoes were also incorporated into the dish, along with a sauce.  To make this gluten free, all that had to be removed from the original dish was a piece of grilled crostini.  The clams were very fresh, and the pork shoulder was smoky, and appeared to be fairly lean for that cut of pork.  The texture was not like shredded pork, but instead were in small chunks.  The left over cornbread was used to sop up the sauce.

My wife chose to have the scallops, with sea island peas, bacon (everything’s better with bacon), pea tendrils and pickled red onions.  The scallops had a good sear to them, but were perfectly opaque on the inside.  Again, the other items were incorporated into the dish for different textures, and flavors.  This dish was also completely gluten free.

Finally, we shared the butterscotch pot de crème.  This was also gluten free, and had a salty aftertaste to it which I believe was also used to make their salted ice cream.  It was full of butterscotch flavor, but the finish was a bit salty for me…which is not to say I wouldn’t have it again.

One thing I really liked was the portion size of the dishes.  As you can see from the pictures, the entrees were not massive quantities of food, nor were they so small you felt like you were getting ripped off.  This was the perfect amount of food, so when you left, you didn’t leave feeling bloated or wanting.

So, when you’re feeling blue, and your mother isn’t around, go to Hungry Mother for some fine Southern Comfort Food.