12 December 2010

Gluten-Free Recipe: French Onion Soup

Yes, friends, it's been a few weeks since I've blogged. I am very happy to report I have completed my first  DPD semester (Didactic Program in Dietetics) at Simmons College -- I'm quite proud of myself for this achievement which has me on the path to a terrific career. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving (running the SRR & Marathon Sports Gobble Gobble Gobble with the lovely ladies of Guiltless then my grandparents' in rural Connecticut) and the last few weeks are a blur of studying, cramming, cooking, eating, running and socializing. Since classes ended, I've surprisingly done a fantastic job relaxing and doing things I love, as well as being productive.

Despite it being mid-December here in Boston, I've only seen a few flurries on one occasion. It's been pouring all day and I can't help but wish it were snow; I am a country girl from New Hampshire, after all. Listening to the icy rain pelt my bedroom windows this morning as I lay in my warm, cozy bed, I decided today was the day to tackle one of my culinary to-do list items: make my own French Onion Soup.

I spent nearly an hour consulting nearly a dozen of my cookbooks as well as the internet for the perfect recipe. Maybe it was the recipe calling for brandy or its incredibly classic approach, but I finally chose to use the recipe in the Culinary Institute of America Cookbook, which I often consult but rarely use. The results were even better than I had anticipated and well-worth the over four hours in the kitchen. This soup is truly a labor of love, but also is perfection in a hot bowl.

French Onion Soup
modified from the Culinary Institute of America Cookbook 

1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium onions, thinly sliced (should yield approximately five cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup brandy (note: two "nips" are about the equivalent if you do not want to buy a larger bottle)
1 1/2 quarts beef stock (I wish I made it from scratch but used More Than Gourmet Beef Stock which is incredibly flavorful yet gluten-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free and lactose-free)
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
2 whole bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
French bread (I used Against the Grain Gluten-Free Rosemary Baguette)
Gruyere cheese, grated (I used Whole Foods Le Gruyere)

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions begin to brown. Raise the heat to medium, stir, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deeply caramelized (dark golden brown), approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. If the onions begin to scorch, add a bit of water, stir, and continue cooking. While the onions are caramelizing, prepare a cheesecloth sachet of Herbes de Provence and bay leaves.

Add the garlic and continue to cook an additional few minutes, until fragrant. Add the brandy and simmer until the liquid has nearly evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth and sachet. Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, skimming the surface for fat as necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven-proof soup crocks or bowls in baking pan and fill pan until water reaches 2/3 up the sides of the crocks. Remove crocks then pour water into saucepan to boil. Ladle soup into crocks, topping each with enough bread to cover the surface. Sprinkle bread with grated cheese, covering completely and allowing cheese to touch edge of the crock.

Pour boiling water into the baking dish with prepared soup crocks, then carefully place in oven. Bake until cheese is lightly browned and soup is bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately. Caution: soup and crocks will be incredibly hot. Bon appetit!

28 November 2010

Race Recap: Chilly Half Marathon

"We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves." -Sir Roger Bannister

In October I ran my first half marathon, finally accomplishing something I had wanted to do for years. I literally came home from the BAA Half Marathon and began researching another half I could this fall. I was devastated when all races conflicted with the American Dietetic Association Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo or were sold out. But me being me, I got resourceful. I contacted the race director of the Chilly Half Marathon in Newton asking if there were any way I could get a number if I volunteered at other races. I ended up volunteering at the Bill's 5K in Newton Centre on Halloween and also at the number pick-up for Chilly at City Sports in Chestnut Hill the day before the race (where I was thrilled to meet very successful and inspirational fellow Boston blogger Carrots 'N' Cake by recognizing her husband). 

I knew Chilly was going to be a great race for me when I was told by a volunteer parking lot attendant I had the absolute last parking space at Newton South High School, the start and finish location of the race. I got in line for the women's restroom and waited over 25 minutes -- it was outrageous! By the time I went to the bathroom and checked my bag, I found myself jogging to the race start so as to not miss the starting gun. Because so many other people were inside the high school with me, they delayed the start by two minutes, allowing me to stretch a bit more and adjust to the cold temperature. I started iPod Shuffle and off we were, about 1200 runners ready to tackle 13.1 miles.

Anyone familiar with the Boston area and the Boston Marathon understands the phrase "the hills of Newton." Newton is a rather large community of smaller Newtons (Newton Corner, Newton Centre, Newtonville, Waban, and so on) and to say it's a hilly area is a huge understatement. Although much of the course was flat, Miles 4 through 8 were basically all hills. The first six miles were fantastic. It was a beautiful, sunny day without too much of a breeze and I was so happy just to be racing again. Around Mile 6 I started to feel a bit beat up by the hills and around Mile 7 I was  starting to experience some serious dietary distress. All the lines for the port-a-johns along the course were at least 3 deep and I decided to keep going; it wasn't THAT bad. At the top of Woodchester Road and Algonquin Road there was the most beautiful view of Boston -- I had no idea the altitude back there was so high! It really gave me motivation heading into running down Heartbreak Hill, a route I run quite frequently in training runs.

I had one incident on Commonwealth Avenue where a police officer tried to stop me from crossing the street to let a car go through. I said "Really?!" to the cop and kept running the course. Reckless? Yes. Dangerous? Possibly. But I was frustrated. Keep in mind I say "thank you" to all police officers and volunteers along the race course for their support and safety of participants. Except this one Newton police officer, to whom I am very sorry. 

By Mile 10 I found my second wind and knew I was on pace to PR by a significant amount of time. Then my nemesis, my right IT band, decided it was time to act up again. I decided my pace and overall time was so great the best thing for me to do would be to stop and stretch. The stretch which seems to help me best involves laying down and crossing my right left over my straight, outstretched left leg (see example picture). So right at the Mile 11 sign I lay down half on the sidewalk, half in someone's driveway and stretched for about a minute. Several other runners asked if I was okay. I replied I was stretching my IT band and one guy replied with "ouch, I hope you finish" in a concerned, understanding tone like he knew the pain I was experiencing. Having another half marathon under my belt, I knew the running the last two miles in pain was completely possible. Before I knew it I was approaching the finish line and heard my name being read over the loudspeaker as I crossed the finish line. I was emotional and teared up a bit as I was handed a medal and the timing device was kindly removed from my ankle by a volunteer. Despite my burning right IT band, my legs didn't seize up as they had in my last race. Instead my lower back hurt a bit (later I discovered it was swollen but ice and a massage helped significantly). Although like my first half marathon, it was not exactly pretty, it was still a 6 minute PR (i.e. Personal Record) for me! Very exciting!

The kind folks at mix1 found my blog and sent me some samples of their all-natural protein shake, which I enjoyed during my final training runs as well as after the race. I was a bit apprehensive since the only other recovery drinks I had tried I did not like. But I really enjoyed mix1 -- no chalky flavor or weird aftertastes. The Blueberry-Vanilla flavor was my favorite and I will definitely be purchasing more in the future.

I've realized I absolutely live for racing. Not because I think I am going to win by any means; for me, just finishing is winning. But rather because I thrive off the energy in the air, being surrounded by other serious runners, simply pinning a bib on my shirt gives me such a thrill.  I'm so excited to start running my "11 in '11" in February, which I am sure will be here before I know it! I'll be blogging again soon about my first gluten-free Thanksgiving and other updates.

04 November 2010

11 in '11

Did you hear I'm running eleven half marathons in 2011? Yes, it's true! Before tackling my first full marathon in 2012, I decided to challenge myself with eleven 13.1 mile races in 2011. It's a very fun, manageable yet challenging distance to tackle -- and "11 in '11" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? 144.1 miles,  not to mention all the training runs, plus 5Ks and 10Ks I'll undoubtedly register for as well. 

Many friends have expressed interest in running some races with me, so after weeks of planning I've come up with a fairly solid calendar. It's still open to some tweaking as I have not officially registered for many of these races and may decide to run others once I have a better sense of my class and work schedule.

Sunday, 20 February
Hampton Beach, NH
My childhood friend, fellow foodie and new nutritionist Erin is also running this race

Sunday, 20 March
New Bedford, MA

Sunday, 3 April
Exeter, NH
Sunday, 15 May (race date is not finalized)
Newton, MA

Sunday, 29 May
Boston, MA

Saturday, 25 June
Seattle, WA
Girls weekend in one of my absolute favorite cities with some wonderful, fast ladies!

Saturday, 7 August
Providence, RI

Saturday, 10 September
Plymouth, MA

Saturday, 24 September (race date is not finalized)
Hollis, NH 

Sunday, 9 October  (race date is not finalized)
Boston, MA
Can't wait to run this again and see how much progress I have made in running half marathons in one year

RACE 11  I haven't decided yet!
Sunday, 6 November  (race date is not finalized)
York, ME
Sunday, 6 November  (race date is not finalized)
Manchester, NH

I still have one more half marathon in 2010 -- the Chilly Half Marathon in Newton on Sunday, 14 November. I'm also seriously considering doing a detox/cleanse in January to start the year off refreshed from the holidays and ready for a busy 2011! 

03 November 2010

Gluten-Free Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake

I've enjoyed so many fantastic meals lately (seafood curry, venison liver, stuffed poussin, and so on). And although they were absolutely incredible, they were devoid of my favorite aspect: dessert! (Unless more wine counts -- and for me, it doesn't).

The smell of the chocolate and butter melting together over a double-boiler is just heaven to me. As such, one of my go-to desserts for years has been a Gourmet (RIP) flourless chocolate cake recipe. Incredibly simple, this recipe has always garnered huge praise from those I've shared it with, often yielding "you should be a pastry chef!" remarks. 

I haven't made it at all since becoming gluten-free earlier this year, and when a craving for brownies struck earlier today, I decided to make my cake instead. As I haven't been using white granulated sugar lately, I used turbinado sugar for the first time in this recipe and I think it added a bit of depth and complexity. I paired a decadent slice with Sweet Scoops Pumpkin Frozen Yogurt and I was quite pleased. 

Flourless Chocolate Cake

4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (I splurged for Valrhona Manjari 64% Feves)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup turbinado sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling (I used Valrhona)

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper. Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler (or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water) melt chocolate with butter, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler (or bowl) from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Slowly add 1/2 cup cocoa powder into chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 20-25 minutes, until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate. Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with ice cream, sorbet or whipped cream if desired. 

19 October 2010

Race Recap: B.A.A. Half Marathon

"The half-marathon is my favorite distance: you feel like you’ve accomplished something significant, but your body isn’t all beaten up the next day."

Mary Wittenberg, president of New York Road Runners, was quoted in The New York Times over the weekend saying the above. Having run my first half marathon last weekend, I completely agree. Here is a very long narrative of my experience...

I ran the 10th Annual Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon on October 10th. The BAA is a very prestigious organization known primarily for the Boston Marathon, but they organize several other races throughout the year, including a 5K the day before the Boston Marathon (which I participated in this year) as well as a half marathon and cross country races. Over the summer when I decided to register for my first half marathon, I was torn between the BAA race on October 10th or the Newport Half Marathon on October 17th. I decided on the BAA Half for several reasons: 1) It was a four day weekend due to Fall Break at Simmons so I could properly rest and recover  2) I could stay in town and not worry about travel expenses or logistics and 3) I heard nothing but wonderful things about the race from other Somerville Road Runners members.

Knowing it was a very popular race, I was at my computer at 9am sharp on a hot July 14th morning to register online. After several errors, the transaction was eventually completed and I was officially signed up for my first half marathon. Incredibly the race sold out of all 6,000 entries in just over two hours! Being one of the lucky entrants already had me motivated to train, although October felt so far away.

Feeling I already had a fairly solid base and didn't want to train too hard for the race, I created a 10-week training plan via Runner's World Magazine's online training tools. I added  each week's runs to my iCal because I knew that some days it would be challenging to lace up my sneakers. But when something is on my calendar, I tend not to make excuses. I tried my best to follow the training plan exactly but reminded myself I could absolutely still finish with adequate preparation. 

The hazy, hot and humid summer days segued beautifully into crisp autumn days this year. After school began, I looked to my runs as a respite from class, work and the stress of adjusting to my new endeavors and environment. In the days leading up to the race, I found myself obsessively questioning my preparedness; literally all I thought about was running (yes, even more than usual). I didn't want to do anything to compromise the impending arrival of 10.10.10. Everything was calculated. I didn't drink any alcohol for a week, avoided chocolate, ice cream and my other favorite sweet treats, replacing them with extra fruits, vegetables and proteins; I also slept more and hydrated like I'd never have access to water again. I carefully watched the weather forecast, bought new running capris at the Gap (thanks for the suggestion, Michelle!) and Hammer Gel. I was ready to rock, err, race.

I prepared a delicious baked salmon, sweet potato and asparagus dinner on Saturday night and somehow fell asleep as a decent hour despite feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve. When I woke up at 4am on Sunday, wide awake, I made the brilliant decision to eat breakfast then go back to sleep. I had one of my favorite breakfasts that worked quite well throughout my training: Nature's Path Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise Gluten-Free Granola with a banana, almond milk and chia seeds. I woke up at 6:15am, got dressed and was picked up by my roommate Molly's friends Tara and Amy who live down the street and were also running the race at 6:45am. There was no traffic so flew down the Mass Pike, parked at UMass Boston and took a school bus shuttle to the start/finish at Franklin Park. We used the surprisingly fast-moving port-a-john lines, checked our bags, stretched and got into the corral for the race start. It was very crowded but everyone was in very good spirits on what was a truly beautiful day.

Before I knew it, the gun went off, everyone cheered, and within a few minutes I officially crossed the starting line and was embarking on my first half marathon. The first few miles went by very quickly. My pace wasn't as fast as I would have liked but I reminded myself my version of being "in it to win it" that day was finishing -- simply finishing was winning! There were lots of spectators on the sidewalks cheering for loved ones and all the runners. Encouragement from children was especially meaningful and made me smile. Somewhere around Mile 7, I decided to open up my raspberry Hammer Gel. This terrified me greatly as I had never tried it. Yes, I realize this could have gone terribly wrong, leaving me with an upset stomach for the last half of the race, perhaps even unable to finish. But I guess it was part of the adventure of running 13.1 miles. Thankfully, I actually liked it!

Before I knew it I was at Mile 10 and I was so incredibly happy -- only three more miles to go! But somewhere around there tragedy struck. My right IT band just completely blew out. It was like my knee was crushed then set on fire. A common issue for runners, I've had problems with it before running and hiking intensely, but had absolutely no issues throughout my training. I was shocked, angry, disappointed and frustrated but there was absolutely no way I was not finishing the race with less than three miles to go! I stopped to use a port-a-john, something I did not want to do during the race but felt was a good way to collect myself for the last leg. I started up again, ate the rest of my Hammer Gel, paid attention to my surroundings and the cheering crowd and found energy from my music. I also thought about Terry Fox and his amazing determination (if you are unfamiliar with his legacy, do yourself a huge favor and educate yourself). 

At this point I had to take walking breaks and knew that I was not going to finish within my projected time of 2:20, and I most likely would not finish within the BAA sanctioned 2:30 cutoff either. There was still a significant amount of runners in beside me and behind me, many of them hobbling along like me, so I felt like I was in good company and we were all working toward the common goal of finishing a half marathon. The course was changed this year from prior years, with some very large hills to tackle at the end of the course. When I got to Mile 12, I started to get emotional because I absolutely knew I was going to finish. Miraculously one of my favorite songs, "Turning Home" by David Nail, came on my iPod at this point. Although it's a slower song, the lyrics speak directly to me and I actually ended up playing it twice in a row to finish the race. I was tired, in excruciating pain and obviously disappointed in my unexpected injury, but I was going to achieve a dream. 

It gets a bit hazy for me at this point, but I remember hearing my name and looking up to see my dear friend, the aforementioned Michelle, on the sidelines. Although she had to be at work at noon, she came out by herself to cheer me on to the finish line. She snapped an awful picture of me (which clearly indicates how much pain I was in) and gave me the final push I needed to finish strong. The last 400 meters of the race were inside the track at Schoolboy Stadium and the cushy surface was a welcome relief. I was so happy to see spectators still in the stands cheering and BAA announcers still working despite it being past the 2:30 mark. I still don't know why they did that, but it made me very happy. I ran hard across the finish line where I was immediately given a finisher's medal and directed toward the post-race festivities. 

I was a bit dazed and confused, but I did it! I knew I needed to keep moving and I was surprised how quickly my legs locked up. I absentmindedly grabbed a bottle of water, a banana and a bag of potato chips, eating half the banana and entire bag of chips while picking up my very nice long-sleeved technical finisher's shirt. I made my way to the bag checked, rendezvoused with Tara and Amy (who were only two minutes shy of a PR!) and got on the shuttle back to UMass where I ate a Balance Bar. I was back home in Brighton around 12:30pm and was so sad the race was already over. I made lunch and tried to nap but the epinephrine was still flowing through  my veins. Despite injury, I ran my first half marathon in 2:39:33 and I am incredibly proud. 

I'm also very hooked. That afternoon I started to search for other half marathons in New England to register for before the winter. It seems like every race is sold out or conflicts with the American Dietetic Association Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, but hopefully I'll find a way to run another half in 2010. If not, I have very ambitious plans to run what I am calling "11 in '11" -- eleven half marathons in 2011. I definitely plan to run the Hyannis Half Marathon in February (yes folks that's 13.1 miles on Cape Cod in February -- I'm crazy) and planning the rest of my calendar in the next few weeks. The more I run the more I realize that our bodies are totally meant for this activity; 13.1 miles doesn't feel long to me anymore. I guess now that I know what I am capable of I just want to push myself to run harder, faster and stronger. 

Today registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon closed out for those who qualified in just over eight hours, shattering records like never before. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but I hope to run the 2012 or 2013 Boston Marathon with a charity bib, as my first marathon.  Running keeps me sane, focused and energized and I can't imagine living without it. I've been using The Stick daily since the race and I am so happy tomorrow morning I am going to run for the first time since the race. Catch me if you can...

18 October 2010


Hi there. It's been over six weeks since I've found the time to even think about paying attention to my dear little blog. I moved yet still have not found the time to truly unpack and be settled, as I began the Nutrition & Dietetics program at Simmons College the day after I moved. I was also working thirty hours per week at Whole Foods Market and also trying to train for a half marathon, eat healthy foods, maintain some sort of social life and also sleep i.e. achieving some semblance of balance is basically impossible and my blog was severely neglected. I since left Whole Foods and started working as a research assistant at Harvard School of Public Health in the Department of Nutrition, which is very exciting. Dr. Walt Willett is one of the world's most respected nutrition researchers (my nutrition professor often quotes him) and I am so blessed to be working on two of his prestigious studies. I hope to one day get my MPH so it's a wonderful place for me to be, and also wonderful to be back at Harvard (since leaving HMNH in 2008).

I am taking three courses this semester: Intro to Psychology, Inorganic Chemistry and Intro to Nutrition. While pursuing my Art History degree at UConn, I took five classes per semester, so three seemed more than manageable for me. But within a week I realized that was absolutely not the case; this program is so different and requires a completely different approach to studying. Although art history did require a lot of memorization (title, artist, date, medium, location), it mostly focused around understanding concepts and explaining their relationships to other concepts; in other words, it is a fairly objective field to study. The sciences, on the other hand, are absolutely subjective. Everyone in the world learns the same chemistry, biology and psychology information and ends up speaking the same scientific language in a sense. You either know it and understand it, or you don't. You can't write an essay in place of a multiple choice question on an exam, you have to learn it and apply it. Each complicated concept builds upon another and another. If you're missing one piece of the puzzle, you're instantly lost.

It's honestly quite daunting and overwhelming for me, someone who never claimed to be a mathematician or scientist. I doubt my intelligence and capabilities on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. I have been through a lot the past few months and my faith and confidence in myself constantly changes. Frequently described as 'positive', 'energetic', 'enthusiastic', 'passionate', sometimes bordering on 'obsessive,' I now frequently give myself pep talks, remind myself how capable and determined I really am. I also have an amazing support network continuing to encourage and inspire me to reach my goals and achieve my dreams.

Since starting Gluten-Free Gina, I have made conscious efforts to keep my posts focused on food, not my personal life, which I share via my Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr pages. I've admittedly had difficulty finding the voice of this blog, but realized recently it's okay to post whatever I'd like. It's my blog after all! So whether it be restaurant reviews, recipes, race recaps, write-ups on social functions or ramblings on topics I'm studying in school, hopefully you'll find more posts on my gluten-free corner of the internet soon. Very soon...

29 August 2010

Health & Nutrition Goal - Week of August 29, 2010

I did very well with last week's goal to increase my hydration. I started bringing my water bottle to work and taking time to take swigs between customers, which really helped. I am still struggling with the restrictions on when I can eat while working (only on breaks every 2-3 hours, and I am usually forced to chow down with very limited time), but my hydration habits at work have improved tremendously. I've also starting drinking at least an 16 ounces of water before going to sleep each night and keeping not one but two full glasses of water on my bedside table (if I could have IV fluids all night I totally would). I made simple, manageable changes I will be able to continue moving forward so I'm happy. I also plan to treat myself to a new water bottle soon (I had to throw mine away at the gate entering a concert earlier this summer and have been using a $1.99 water bottle from Target ever since).

You may have noticed the title of this week's nutrition goal post has changed to include health as well as nutrition. As this is my blog (and my life) and I make the rules, I've decided to expand my weekly goals to include overall health goals in addition to nutrition. I want to incorporate all aspects of wellness into my goals. The primary reason in making this change now is my increasing interest in the safety of health and beauty products.

Did you know our body's absorb approximately 60% of the toxins and chemicals in the lotions, shampoos, hand soaps, cosmetics and other products we use every day? I was astonished to also find out that most of the ingredients in these products have never been tested by the FDA and are virtually unregulated by the government. Crazy, right?! In a world where scientists and medical professionals are frantically trying to understand why cancer, disease, illness and autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease are on the rise, I can't help by wonder how much of these issues can be attributed to our society's increasing obsession with personal appearance and the steps we take to achieve so-called perfection.

So my goal for this week is to pledge that each time I run out of a conventional beauty product, I will replace it with a safe, natural product. I can't afford to replace them all at once, nor do I like wasting anything, so I am looking forward to gradually implementing new items into my daily beauty and cleansing routine. As many products claim to be organic and natural but still contain carcinogens and other unwanted chemicals, I will be sure to thoroughly research my choices before purchasing. Naturally I am also concerned about the efficacy of these items; I'm very much a creature of habit when it comes to my simple beauty routine. I will be starting this process with my make-up removing cleansing cloths I use every evening before bed -- I am almost out of them and I buy them frequently so it will be a good first purchase.

If you have any interest in learning more about the potential dangers lurking in your medicine cabinet and make-up bag, a great resource is No More Dirty Looks, a book and Good Magazine column by Alexandra Spunt and Siobhan O'Connor. As this very informative interview in Time Magazine highlights, like me, these women were completely clueless until they realized they were blindly trusting the products they use daily were safe and harmless, which is false! Spunt and O'Connor are also realistic and do encourage using your favorite conventional products for special occasions, an idea I am very much behind.  You can also find out the toxicity levels of products you use at Skin Deep: Cosmetics Safety Database -- it's fascinating and disturbing how unsafe popular products are. Become an informed consumer today.

27 August 2010

Gluten-Free Restaurant Review: Zing! Pizza

On Wednesday evening my busy schedule finally allowed for me to attend Gluten-Free Slice Night at Zing! Pizza in Cambridge's Porter Square. As I hadn't eaten pizza since June (dinner at Charley's with my friend Joy), I was beyond excited. I love pizza! (then again, who doesn't?) Their gluten-free crust is provided by Glutenus Minimus Bakery in Belmont (a favorite of mine) and quite delicious.

I was especially anxious to try to the Blue October -- roasted butternut squash sauce topped with baby spinach, mozzarella cheese, caramelized onions and blue cheese crumbles. I had never had squash on pizza and I absolutely loved it. Combined with the onions and cheeses on a crispy crust, it was pizza perfection. I will definitely order a whole pie sometime this fall and enjoy with a bottle of red wine.

The other slice I tried was the Capitola -- sheep's milk feta cheese, baby spinach, mozzarella cheese and roasted red peppers. It was still very good, but in comparison to the Blue October, I just wasn't all that impressed. Zing! is hoping to eventually hold Gluten-Free Slice Night weekly but right now it's only a few times per month. Their tiny restaurant was absolutely packed with local twentysomethings and suburban families alike so it would be in their best interest to accommodate these hungry gluten-free patrons more often.

I did have one customer service issue in that I ordered a slice of a pizza variety which was still being baked in the oven and was told they would bring it to me when it was ready. Cut to 15 minutes later and still no pizza. I approached a staff member who profusely apologized and gave me a slice of another flavor  of my choice, as the Augustus Classicus had already sold out.

Although I obviously didn't try it myself, my dining companion really liked his "regular" pizza (The Sundance Kid -- tomato sauce, turkey sausage, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions and parmesan) so Zing! Pizza is a win for everyone. Check them out at 1923 Massachusetts Avenue in the heart of Porter Square, easily accessible by the T and metered parking. To be fair, I will have to check out Stone Hearth Pizza soon, as they also have gluten-free pizza.

25 August 2010

Gluten-Free Recipe: Zucchini Carrot Raisin Pecan Bread

It's been unseasonably rainy and cool in Boston the past few days, a preview of fast-approaching autumn. The weather has made me crave comfort foods such as soup, roasted meats, macaroni and cheese and hearty breads. Zucchinis are abundant right now and I've been mulling over creating my own gluten-free zucchini bread recipe for days. So I made a deal with myself -- I can bake today, if and only if, I start packing to move this weekend (or at least begin to de-clutter and organize).

As I began to tackle the papers in my desk drawers, my apartment became filled with the spicy aroma of the bread baking and I kept checking the timer. I am happy to report the recipe was a success and totally worth the wait -- moist and hearty, nutty and spicy. All the flavors work together and bread would legitimately pass as a regular bread made with wheat flour. Try other variations with dried cranberries, crystallized ginger or chocolate chips; these would also make fantastic muffins. I'm also contemplating a chocolate zucchini bread/muffins (adding cocoa powder) for later this fall so stay tuned.

Zucchini Carrot Raisin Pecan Bread

1/3 cup oil
1 cup turbinado raw sugar (I use Whole Foods 365 brand)
2 eggs
1/2 cup natural unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
Zest of one large orange
1 large zucchini, grated
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 cup pecans (or walnuts)
1/2 cup raisins

Combine oil, sugar, eggs, applesauce and vanilla in large bowl and mix well. Combine flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, spices and orange zest in medium bowl. Slowly add dry mixture into wet mixture until just combined (do not panic if this does not look like enough batter yet). Add zucchini, carrots, pecans and raisins until just combined (batter volume should nearly double). Pour into 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 loaf pan and bake in 350 degree oven for 65-70 minutes until brown and knife/toothpick comes out clean. If top of loaf browns too quickly, cover with foil. Cool, serve and enjoy!

23 August 2010

Gluten-Free Recipe: Chocolate Banana Almond Vegan Overnight Oats

Since first making them last week, I've had a variation vegan overnight oats for breakfast every day. I love preparing them the night before, experimenting with new ingredients and ratios, and how filling they are. My recipes prepare enough for a hearty breakfast with enough leftover small snack later in the day, which I really like. The oats I made last night were so wonderful I wanted to share them. Enjoy!

Chocolate Banana Almond Vegan Overnight Oats
1/3 cup Bob's Red Mill Certified Gluten-Free Rolled Oats
1/2 cup chocolate almond milk (I used Almond Breeze Unsweetened Chocolate)
1 packet Amazing Grass Green SuperFood Drink Powder (Cacao Infusion flavor would also work well)
1/2 medium ripe banana, mashed
1 heaping tablespoon chia seeds (I buy Navitas brand)
1 heaping tablespoon flaxseed meal (I buy Bob's Red Mill brand)
1 tablespoon natural almond butter or other nut butter (right now I'm using Blue Diamond Homestyle Creamy Almond Butter)
3 medium strawberries, sliced (or other fresh berries)

Combine oats, almond milk, banana, Amazing Grass powder, chia seed and flaxseed in small bowl and mix well (I used a whisk). Cover and refrigerate overnight. Mix in nut butter and berries. Add extra almond milk to thin if desired. Heat in microwave 45-60 seconds (oats will be room temperature) and enjoy!

22 August 2010

Nutrition Goal - Week of August 22, 2010

Last week's nutrition goal to eat more greens didn't go over as well as I had planned. I'm still adjusting to my new job and preparing to move and start classes, so my energy to cook dinner severely diminished. As a result, I made very simple meals and also went out to dinner twice. I will still carry this goal into this week and make sure I have leafy green vegetables on hand so I have no excuses.

This week, my nutrition goal is to hydrate more. This is very simple and something of which I have always been very cognizant, but the way my body has been behaving lately, it's like I'm not drinking any water at all. My analysis is the combination of now being on my feet six to eight hours a day at work plus starting my B.A.A. Half Marathon training plan has altered my physiology. I've also admittedly been anxiety-ridden in anticipation of all these major life changes happening at once. My metabolism has also gone into overdrive and I'm constantly hungry. I'm trying to eat more wholesome, filling foods and also eat and drink more throughout the day. I start the Nutrition & Dietetics program at Simmons next week and I am SO EXCITED to begin to learn about the human body and its dietary needs in-depth.

21 August 2010

More Gluten-Free Favorites

I realized it's been over a month since I shared new gluten-free products I've tried and liked. Here are a few with more to follow later this week...

Simply Decadent Cookie Dough Gluten-Free Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert - Did you know Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream was invented by Ben & Jerry's during our/my lifetime? As an ice cream addict, I always crave ice cream with lots of chunks, toppings and additions. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough was never a flavor I particularly lusted after until I lost my ability to consume it. My WFM coworkers and customers alike have been raving about Simply Decadent products so I decided to purchase their gluten free Cookie Dough flavor during my last grocery shopping expedition. I truly love this product. The "ice cream" has a very rich, creamy flavor with a subtle hint of coconut. The cookie dough chunks are large, abundant and taste like regular old cookie dough. This product deserves a gold star. I'm anxious to try their other flavors as well.
I purchased chia seeds to add to my vegan overnight oats as well as baked goods and other meals. Often described as a superfood, chia seeds have "long used by the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans as a staple food along with corn and beans... Chock full of healthy omega fats, protein, antioxidants, and dietary fiber, the little chia seed goes a long way." Along with flax seed meal, chia seeds are another fabulous food to implement into your daily dietary habits. They are also becoming popular with runners due to the outrageously popular literary adventure Born To Run. Navitas brand chia seeds are raw, gluten-free, kosher, vegan, and 100% organic; I purchased them in the Whole Body department of Whole Foods Market ($6.29 for 8-ounce package).

LaraBar (new flavors) -- I have discussed LaraBars many times on this blog, as I'm a huge fan of their delicious and nutritious bars. Much to my delight, last month they released four new flavors, all of which could easily substitute for dessert. Carrot Cake is my overall favorite new variety -- each bar provides 25% of the Daily Value of vitamin A, is a good source of potassium and is also ½ serving of fruit. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (are you sensing a trend here?) and Chocolate Chip Brownie are not quite as indulgent, but taste fantastic frozen then thawed for 10-15 minutes (an amazing tip from Alysa). Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip is a bit too rich for me, but I find myself keeping one on hand lately.

Ian's Natural Foods Allergen Friendly Chicken Nuggets -- Earlier this summer when visiting my parents in New Hampshire, I bought Ian's chicken nuggets because the grocery store in our rural area didn't carry many frozen, easy gluten free options (I used to be a huge fan of Morningstar Farms veggie burgers and other vegetarian products, but they are all made with wheat protein so they are now off-limits). They have since become a staple of my go-to simple meals. Paired with natural unsweetened applesauce (I despise ketchup so I've always dipped my chicken nuggets in applesauce -- strange, I know), asparagus and Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips, and can create a nutritious meal in about five minutes. Ian's makes a lot of allergen friendly products including fish sticks, breakfast sandwiches, French bread pizzas and French fries, which I may eventually try when seeking an easy frozen meal.

Bionaturae Gluten Free Pasta -- I was quite happy with my Schar brand gluten free pasta until my family purchased two bags of Bionaturae brand for me when on vacation in the Thousand Islands in July. The recipe took over a year to develop (by Italians and an American in 1994) and it shows in the final product, a combination of organic rice flour, organic rice starch, organic potato starch and organic soy flour. It's a bit pricey (over $4 per bag) but being half Italian/Sicilian, I will pay the extra money for a quality, tasty pasta.

20 August 2010

Gluten-Free Recipe: Vegan Overnight Oats

If you read any health and fitness blogs, you have undoubtedly seen other bloggers frequently gobbling up vegan overnight oats for breakfast. I decided to it was finally time for me to join the frenzy and attempt my own vegan overnight oats creation based upon ratios and ingredients I've seen used. Most people use chia seeds instead of flax seed meal, but it was a suitable, nutritious substitution. Bananas are often used in place of applesauce, but I wanted to save mine for a work snack today.

After preparing my concoction and placing it in the refrigerator, I couldn't wait to try it! I woke up this morning tired and hesitant to get out of bed immediately, but then I remembered my 'science experiment' waiting in the kitchen. So delicious! This combination is very nutty and well seasoned, but also sweet. It's a very filling meal (I have a few spoonfuls left in the bowl I am too full to finish) and definitely a winning way to kick-start your day. I'm looking forward to creating other vegan overnight oats recipes in the future. Especially as my schedule gets busy when classes start, having breakfast already prepared will be a huge help.

Vegan Overnight Oats

1/3 cup Bob's Red Mill Certified Gluten-Free Rolled Oats
1/2 cup almond milk (I used Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla)
1/4 cup natural unsweetened applesauce
1 heaping tablespoon flax seed meal
1 tablespoon ginger syrup (I used The Ginger People) or maple syrup
Dash cinnamon
Dash nutmeg
1 tablespoon natural almond butter or other nut butter
3 medium strawberries, sliced (or other fresh berries)

Combine oats, almond milk, applesauce, flax seed, syrup and spices in small bowl and mix well (I used a whisk). Cover and refrigerate overnight. Mix in nut butter and berries. Heat in microwave 45-60 seconds (oats will be room temperature) and enjoy!

Update 08.21.2010 - I purchased chia seeds and added 1 tablespoon to this morning's oats along with my flax seed meal. Fantastic addition!

(note: I didn't include any pictures with this post because the oats looked very unappetizing, but I assure you they are fantastic)

17 August 2010

More Gluten-Free Goodies - Gingersnap Molasses Cookies

Ginger has always been a favorite spice in my family, especially in sweet treats like gingerbread and gingersnaps. In high school I devised a recipe for what I liked to call Gingersnap Molasses Cookies. Not quite a gingersnap, because I prefer a softer, chewier cookie, but not quite a molasses cookie due to all the spices. I became famous for them amongst friend and family -- the perfect balance of spicy, salty and sweet. People argued over whether they taste best warm from the oven, cooled later on or even three days later. They truly are a favorite of nearly everyone who tries them. I have even been told I could start a business just selling those cookies, that's how delicious they were. My techniques in baking these cookies are very specific; my brother has tried several times to bake them since I moved out of my family's house and he can never get it quite right.

My new, obviously gluten free as well as vegan, recipe has gotten rave reviews from two of my best friends and I have not been able to stop eating them as well, so they are definitely another big hit. Tonight my dear friend Liz and I enjoyed the cookies as ice cream sandwiches filled with local Salted Caramel Batch Ice Cream and a bottle of Malbec. Combined with our delightful conversation, it was a perfect pairing. Follow my directions exactly and you will be quite pleased with the results!

Gina's Gluten Free Vegan Gingersnap Molasses Cookies
adapted from BabyCakes Bakery

3/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup natural unsweetened applesauce
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups cane sugar
2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup flax meal
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking sooda
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum

In medium bowl, combine the oil, applesauce, salt, molasses, vanilla and cane sugar. In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, flax meal, spices, baking soda and xanthan gum. Carefully add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir until just combined. Chill dough in refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.

Roll spoonfuls of dough in palms of hands until 1.5 inch diameter round ball is formed. Place cookie dough balls on greased cookie sheet at least 2 inches apart. Gently flatten each cookie dough ball with the heel of your hand (to ease in spreading while baking). Bake for 12-14 minutes, until dough begins to crisp along edges but center does not nearly look done. Allow cookies to cool on hot cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then gently place on large piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper to further cool. Do not use a regular cooling rack or the hot cookies will become misshapen! Cookies will keep 3-4 days in airtight container and also freeze well.

Note: Do not double this recipe! The ratios need to be adjusted. I had my first baking blunder in years attempting to double them this weekend.