Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bananas Foster Upside Down Cake

You know what really stinks about the holidays? Everyone bakes lots and lots of really yummy cookies, and cakes, and tarts, and pies, and delicate things wrapped in phyllo dough...and not one of them is gluten free. (Ok, I exaggerate a bit...but none of them are GF in the homes I visit.)

I decided that I wasn't going to just grin and bear it, I was going to take action! Yes, yes, I know I could buy a wonderful, delicious, gluten free dessert from several locations (future post topic... epic foreshadowing!), but there is something about the approaching holidays and the smell of fresh baked goodies in your home.  It just makes the whole season seem complete.

Enter one of my go-to cookbooks, The Cake Mix Doctor. It is the perfect marriage between my love of homemade baked goods and my often cramped schedule.  I have a few favorites, but recently I was inspired to try the bananas foster upside down cake by the sad sight of three very ripe bananas hanging out on the kitchen counter. The result? Delicious.  Try it for yourself:

Bananas Foster Upside Down Cake (adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor)

1/3 c butter
1 c packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp light rum
3 c sliced bananas (about 3 bananas)--cut about 1/4" thick

1 package yellow (or similar) gluten free cake mix*
8 Tbsp (1 stick) melted butter (channel your inner Paula Deen)
1 1/2 c whole milk
2 large eggs**
4 tsp fresh lemon juice

*I used a 15oz Hodgson Mill gluten free yellow cake mix and it worked beautifully. The original recipe calls for an 18.5 oz butter recipe golden cake mix, but good luck finding something that specific gluten free
**I substituted with cornstarch because I was out of eggs, and the bananas couldn't wait.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (Note: The original recipe calls for the cake to be created and baked in a cast iron skillet.  My cast iron skillet is definitely not gluten free, so I used a 12" cake pan instead.  I will give you the directions for both methods, because I'm awesome like that.)

Make the topping--Place the 1/3 c butter in a 10" cast iron skillet to melt; remove from heat and stir in brown sugar, cinnamon, and rum with a fork. Spread evenly over bottom of pan and arrange banana slices over the sugary goodness. (Non-skillet: melt butter in a saucepan, stir in brown sugar, cinnamon, and rum while still over low heat until very well blended. Pour into buttered cake pan. Layer bananas on top.)

Make the cake--Combine cake mix, melted butter, milk, eggs, and lemon juice with an electric mixer on low speed for one minute. Increase speed and blend for an additional two minutes until the batter is creamy and smooth. Pour the batter over the prepared banana topping (in either type of pan), spread out gently (don't disturb your bananas!), and place into the oven. Bake for 43-47 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.  If you have used the cast iron skillet, run a knife along the edge of the skillet when you remove it from the oven and invert onto a plate.  If you have used a cake pan, you can do the same or just leave it in the pan for serving. If you buttered the pan well, it should release easily.

The cake is wonderful on it's own, with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, or with a nice dollop of fresh whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcome 2013!

The New Year is only one day old, and I have already given it a lot to do.  I have set some goals and have others in queue. I am doing a bit of the "making new habits" mantra while also appreciating the ones I was able to change or incorporate in 2012.  Transforming my life into a gluten free existence was--as I look back on it--a lot harder at times than I expected. But I made it through, and I am much happier as a result.  I even took the plunge into regular exercise once I wasn't feeling like the walking dead every day, and by Christmas Day was 20 pounds lighter than this time last year. Yeah, I'll take it. And I will be keeping the "exercise regularly" habit in my bag of tricks.  It feels good.

But this journey was never about losing weight.  It was about being able to enjoy food and enjoy life without sickness. Without a foggy head. Without an aching body. And now that I am closing in on the one-year anniversary of the big change that made it all possible, I am finally...finally...feeling comfortable enough in my gluten free habits to experiment a bit with my cooking.  I used to love culinary improvisation, but I lost a bit of my kitchen mojo when my focus was on ingredients, and eliminating cross contamination, and finding out exactly which things that are "packaged on equipment that also packages wheat" I can enjoy and which ones make me wish I hadn't gotten out of bed that morning.

But, the mojo? She is back. And I am having a lovely time creating interesting meals that make me smile.  So, for 2013, one of my goals is to post here at least once a week with a recipe or restaurant or recommendation that made living the gluten free life a little easier--at least for me.  I hope to see a lot of sharing from you, too.  Leave a comment when the mood strikes you, or you can even drop me a note at dish.on.this AT gmail DOT com. I am especially interested in getting some restaurant or grocery recommendations from people outside the Pittsburgh area because I would love to see this blog become an approachable resource for people like us living in every corner.

Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bits and Bites in the Burgh

Now that I have been eating gluten free for three months and have been mentally writing blog posts and reviews about this, that, and the other thing, I figured I might want to actually write those posts in the real world and share my insights. Because you know that after three months, my pools of knowledge make me the BIG EXPERT IN ALL THINGS THAT ARE GLUTEN FREE. Of course they do.

One thing that makes me extremely anxious is trying to avoid gluten while eating out. We don't eat out all that often, but it was nice sometimes if we had an extremely crazy day in store to either eat out or grab and go from one of our local favorites. The one thing I have learned is to just ask as many questions as I need to really ascertain whether something is going to be ok, make me sick, or falls into the horrible grey area of "we're just really not sure" meaning that the only way I will know is to try it. Most of those "uncertain" items have been filed away for future reference, and will only be tested when I decide that I really want to eat Item X.

When I find that someone in food service really gets what I am dealing with and doesn't just hide their eye roll thinking that I am just another loony bird doing another fad diet, I want to do a happy dance. Instead of torturing you with that visual, I will share with you some of my best GF experiences around Pittsburgh so far (remember, I don't eat out much, so the list is short...)

Mandy's Pizza
This cheerful, yellow, but otherwise nondescript building in Pittsburgh's West View neighborhood has a lovely collection of GF items that fool you into thinking you're eating the real deal. The owner's son has a host of food allergies, so he decided to create items that his son could actually enjoy--and for that I thank him. On my first visit, I tried the GF pizza, and it lived up to expectations. The crust is a thin, dense dough (so, you're not getting a fluffy, pan-pizza type crust) with a great flavor and texture to support the generous toppings. After that, I went for the hoagie (turkey) and it was love at first bite. I am a huge fan of a those sandwiches, and I didn't realize how much I missed biting into a freshly toasted hoagie until I had one at Mandy's. YUM. I have not strayed from my order since then, except the one day when I added a side of GF french fries. They are made from fresh-cut potatoes and Mandy's has a dedicated allergen-free fryer so I know I'm not accidentally ingesting a crumb from a mozzarella stick or the like.

Church Brew Works
When my in-laws came to town, they asked if we could go to the Church Works because they enjoyed it so much on their last visit. "Of course," we said, because it's one of our favorites, too. The last time I had been there, though, was pre-GF eating, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I will say that my choices were somewhat limited, BUT our server and the chef were extremely knowledgeable about what it meant to need a GF meal, what items contained gluten, and how we could construct a meal to work for me. I ended up having the quinoa salad with raspberry vinaigrette (the lemon dressing listed in the menu contains gluten) and topped with grilled shrimp. I enjoyed it thoroughly but more wanted to give the shout-out for them being so helpful and understanding.

I realize that this is a national chain, not a local venue, but I was completely impressed with the size of their GF menu as well as their care in the kitchen for using GF pots, utensils, and plates. I felt as if my needs were definitely being addressed. I had the caramel mango chicken and loved every bite. Although I will say that I wished I had been able to help the family eat their plate of crispy green beans. They looked awesome (note to self: figure out how to replicate with GF flours).

As I find more gems around the city, I will post them here. I have also been keeping track of products and recipes that really impress. And the Italian husband (we'll call him Piatto...that's Italian for "dish" in case your translator isn't handy) is sticking around even though I can't eat semolina. I believe that might be punishable by witch trial back in the old country. {smirk}

Disclaimer:  I have not been compensated by any of the above for my opinion.  Just sharing what I think with you, free of any strings.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Turning Around

When I was a kid, my dad used to sing, "Give me 40 acres and I'll turn this rig around," by the Willis Brothers every time my brother or I would take on a task by going about it the long, drawn out, and (unnecessarily) complicated way. As I came to the decision that I would try on the gluten free idea, I imagined it as one of those complicated, awkward tasks that would take me a lot more effort than needed and that would not give me the satisfaction I desired. I was very, very wrong.

First, eliminating gluten has not been complicated at all. True, I am a bagel fanatic, so I have had to eliminate one of my favorite carbs from the safe list of foods. But there's more to life than bagels (or so I tell myself). And I had stopped eating most prepared foods because they made me ill (gee, I wonder why), so that side of the gluten purge was easy.

Second, the difference in how I feel pre- and post-gluten is dramatic. No. Dramatic is an understatement. I feel energized. I feel positive. I feel light. I feel hopeful. I do *not* feel sick. I do *not* feel depressed. I do *not* want to go back to eating gluten. If someone had told me that I would feel this much better, I would never have believed them because this type of reversal is a thing of fairy tales. Or so I thought. I mean, seriously, the amount of energy running through my body almost makes me feel as if I'm a good way.

I'm still making minor tweaks in what I'm eating so I can have my (gluten-free) cake and eat it, too. For instance, I found some lovely GF crackers that taste just like the whole-grain ones I eat anyway. But, it appears that the chock-full-o-flax-seed contents are not agreeing with me after all. And I've always had a problem with flax seeds, so I need to stay aware since they tend to creep into GF foods. I'm actually testing my diet to be sure it's them, but I'm pretty sure. Today I was able to eliminate that the issues were not a result of the GF pizza crust I made the other day. Excellent news since that crust was pretty darn yummy. Tomorrow I test the fruit/yogurt smoothie, and then Sunday I test the crackers again. You know the old saying, you can take the scientist out of the lab...

At this point, my husband jokingly refers to my "miracle cure" because I talk about how good I feel. All. The. Time. But it's been such a contrast to how bad I felt earlier, that I walk around each day thinking, "Really? This is how people feel? Because this is AWESOME."

Here's to more awesome with a side of "Oh yeah."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Free as a Bird

I have decided after far too long that I am tired of feeling ill every time I eat. I have always been a fan of food, and the size of my rump will attest to that fact fervently. But, I have reached the point where food is simply an unfortunate necessity, not a pleasure. I try very hard to eat things that will not make me sick. And I fail most of the time. And so I have begun to dread feeling hungry.

At this point, most people would consult their family physician or a specialist. Someone who might, perhaps, alleviate the onset of the ill at every meal. But I walk to the beat of a different drummer. The drummer who is banging on my hard head trying to knock some sense into me. "I should be able to figure this out," I tell myself. "You're a doctor, make it better," I insist. Yeah, because a PhD in psychology is well-equipped to handle GI distress. I think I can, I think I can...

Enter some careful research combined with wanting to do something positive for my health in Lent, and here I stand on the first day of my gluten-free journey to Easter. When I decided the other day that what I would like to do for Lent is just give up food altogether, I realized that cutting out the gluten was a must-do activity. My symptoms primarily point to gluten sensitivity/intolerance (but not quite to celiac). And six weeks of dietary restriction certainly won't hurt. For lack of a better blogging motivation, I'm going to track myself here. I know what you're thinking. Wow--does it get any more exciting? No. No, it does not.

At the end of day 1, I actually feel pretty good. No meal-related illness, which is a huge plus. But one day does not mean it's fixed, so march on I will.

Stay tuned.