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Is There Life After Cheese?

April 15, 2014

Okay, so that hiatus went on a whole lot longer than I’d originally planned.

Short version:   Life has been–crazy.  2013 was a very full, very stressful year and I really needed that time off from blogging.  I’m still crazy busy, and I don’t know if I’ll be coming back even now, but I have felt this compulsion to post, so here I am.

We’ve got the gluten free thing down in our household.  Now, I’m getting a new challenge, as I’ve recently found out that I’m casein intolerant.  That’s the protein in dairy, for those of you who aren’t in the know.  This is entirely unrelated to lactose intolerance, which is simply those people who lack the enzyme to process lactose and end up with gastro-intestinal discomfort.  There are all kinds of products for the lactose intolerant that are loaded with casein.  In terms of dealing with a casein allergy and the public’s general knowledge–we’re now about where gluten was 15 years ago.  Which is to say that outside of our own kitchens, we’re up s*it creek without a paddle.

I’m working my way through the stages of grief and right now I’m smack dab in the middle of Blisteringly Furious.  I suspect I’m going to be there a while.

Having been through this with hubby for gluten, I know that the most important things I can do are to educate myself, locate the best resources, and to find replacements for a handful of my favorite foods.  The problem being that every single one of my favorite foods uses cheese and there is no acceptable substitute for cheese (I live in the small town south, if you’ll remember).  The “veggie” cheeses at the grocery store have casein.  They’re geared to the lactose intolerant.  There is a product called Daiya, but it is not available within a 3 hour drive of me, and my grocery store won’t order it.  It’s on my list of stuff to pick up on my trip down to New Orleans next month.

A vegan friend recommended to me The Uncheese Cookbookwhich I picked up.  After ordering a bunch of the ingredients I didn’t already have, I’ve been slowly going through and testing recipes in good faith, trying to maintain a positive attitude.  I tried the Nacho Cheeze sauce on nachos, which were awful.  I did discover that it works decently well for an Easy Mac.  Last night I tried the faux mozzarella on pizza (which I’ve been craving for weeks, like WHOA), which was one of the most demoralizing food experiences I’ve ever had.  It didn’t melt (casein is what makes cheese gloriously gooey and melty and wonderful) as the book said.  Which ended up being a good thing, as I could still peel it off and at least eat my soggy tomato bread (which is what pizza is without cheese).  I spent the rest of the night on the verge of tears.  This would be after the weekend when we had a family dinner and I was asked to make a lemon icebox pie (I make kick ass awesome lemon icebox pie).  I tried a vegan version that turned out like lemon snot, so I went ahead and made the real thing for everybody else and got to watch them nom and rave while I got nothing.  And we circle back around to Blisteringly Furious and Depressed on the verge of tears.

I’ve been looking around trying to find some good resources for dairy free food blogs.  I’m really annoyed at all the ones out there with the sanctimonious lectures about how dairy is so bad for you and blah blah.  I, frankly, don’t give a damn how bad it is for you.  The lecture doesn’t help me know how to live without cheese.  It was my one food that, if asked what I could never live without, I always said.  This is so sucktastic I don’t even know where to start.  All the other dairy stuff–milk, desserts, that kind of thing are adaptable.  I already found other stuff for those during the elimination diet that led to this discovery in the first place.  But cheese?

I’ve got another good friend also going dairy free due to other medical reasons, and we’ve been commiserating and shaking our fists at the Universe.  And I know we’re not alone.  I guess that’s why I posted today.   So I can’t promise I’ll be back here regularly with normal food bloggy stuff, but I will be here to post about my experience with going dairy free, sharing the resources I find and what works and what doesn’t.  If you have stuff to share with others, please feel free to email me at potsandplots (at) gmail (dot) com, catch me on twitter @kaitnolan or on Facebook.

At some point, I’ll go through my archives here and tag the recipes that are already naturally dairy free (as I did for gluten free).  Given how much I love dairy, I doubt there will be a whole lot.

Hiatus

March 7, 2013

I am on official hiatus for a while.  I’m still cooking, but right now, there’s SO MUCH going on in my life, I just don’t have it in me to do a lot of recipe development or posting.  I’ll be back, and will no doubt make some posts from time to time.  If you’d like to keep up without actually having to check back here on any kind of basis, sign up over there for posts by email or RSS and whatever comes out will pop up in your inbox or your feed reader.  Take care!

Gluten Free Friday: Barbeque Chicken Stromboli

February 22, 2013

Okay this isn’t really a classic stromboli.  Real stromboli has all these lovely layered Italian meats and veggies.  But I had some leftover rotisserie chicken and a hankering for barbeque AND pizza and…well, this is what I wound up doing with it.  The end result was quite tasty.

Ingredients:

Special equipment:

  • parchment paper (You will thank me for this later)
  • pizza stone or pan

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  If you’re using a pizza stone, pop it in during the preheat.
  2. Tear off a piece of parchment paper that’s approximately the same size as  your stone or pan.
  3. Oil your hands.
  4. Plop the dough down on your parchment paper and press into a thin rectangle (you’re looking at about an eighth of an inch thick at the most).
  5. Brush a layer of barbeque sauce down the center.
  6. Sprinkle the chicken down the center.
  7. Add a little more barbeque sauce.
  8. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the chicken.
  9. Now, here’s where you’re going to thank me for that parchment paper.  Carefully lift one side and fold it over the middle.  You should be able to peel the parchment paper back (not off, as it’s going to bake on it–you’re just folding).
  10. Repeat on the other side and press seam closed.
  11. Carefully transfer the stromboli to your pizza stone (I recommend using a pizza peel so you don’t drop it) or place the pan in the oven.
  12. Bake for 10 minutes.
  13. Slice into chunks all the way down.
  14. Serve with more barbeque sauce for dipping.

Printable version.

Mix It Up Monday: Baked Lemon Pasta With Chicken and Pastamore’s Lemon Garlic Orzo

February 18, 2013

One of my great pleasures as a food blogger is the opportunity to try products that I otherwise would never have access to.  A while back I was offered the chance to try out some of Pastamore’s gourmet gluten free pasta line from J.D. Gourmet.  I got three (so there will be more recipes to come) but straight out of the box I KNEW I had to try the lemon garlic orzo in Pioneer Woman’s Baked Lemon Pasta.  The only changes I made to her recipe was to half it, use light sour cream, and add in some rotisserie chicken for Mr. Carnivore.  And of course using this gluten free orzo instead of the spaghetti.

The pasta itself has a lovely flavor, though not quite enough on its own to enjoy with just a touch of olive oil, IMO.  It paired beautifully with the lemon and garlic in this cream sauce.  The texture was properly pasta-like and did not become overly gelatinous on sitting (we had half for leftovers) as so many gluten free pastas do.  Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of this product!  Thank you J.D. Gourmet for this opportunity.   I’ll be writing about the tomato basil fettucini and the wild mushroom linguini as I try them.

Review: Lean Cuisine Chef’s Pick Culinary Roundtable

February 11, 2013


I make no secret of the fact that I am a food snob.  Or the fact that I really like to eat.  So when I think of Lean Cuisine, the first word that comes to mind historically is DISAPPOINTED.  They never ever look as good as the picture on the box.  The portion sizes are miniscule and hold me over for about half an hour.  And the food itself was usually fairly tasteless and unimpressive, often with a rubbery, overcooked texture that I have come to expect from a microwave dinner.

But I’d been hearing noises about the Chef’s Pick collection.  This is a thing the last few years with the insane popularity of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.  People bringing in chefs to overhaul their food and raise the bar for what people expect.  So when the opportunity came up through the Tastemakers program to try some of Lean Cuisine’s new Chef’s Pick dinners, I signed up.

I’d checked out the list of possible flavors on the website and was EXCITED.  Among them:

  • Spinach Artichoke Ravioli
  • Chili Lime Chicken
  • Mushroom Mezzaluna Ravioli
  • Chicken Makhani
  • Chicken Carbonara
  • Chicken with Basil Cream Sauce
  • Chicken Pecan
  • Thai-Style Chicken

It took me a while to find them in my local Walmart.  We have gobs of Lean Cuisines but only ONE SHELF (out of about 10) of the Chef’s Pick options.  Sadly MOST of the ones I’d wanted to try weren’t here.  Small town, what can I expect.  But I did pick up the Chicken Marsala and the Ranchero Braised Beef.

First, the chicken marsala.  As you can see from the box, this is a beautiful dish in its base form.  I know something about staging and food photography and this is something Lean Cuisine actually has always done well…making what’s supposed to be in the box LOOK appealing.  But hint hint.  This thing is only 220 calories and 6 grams of fat.  That dish you see there is about the size of a saucer from a tea set.  Again, this is expected.  It’s part of that restricted calorie thing.  But what about what’s inside the box?

Um, yeah…this is not what the picture looked like.  Not really anything they can do about that.  It’s part and parcel of the whole microwave dinner phenomenon.    So I grabbed a salad plate and scooped it out in an effort to see if I could, in any way, replicate the picture.

Clearly there’s WAY more gravy in this box than they used in the shoot, and I’m fairly certain there was more risotto in the shoot than is in the box.  But I’m not really grading them for presentation.  I do not expect to eat a frozen dinner with my eyes first.

So what about the most important question: How did it taste?

I was…shocked.  This was truly delicious.  I had no idea it was possible to pull chicken out of the microwave that was this moist and flavorful.  The flavor combinations tasted fresh and very, very appealing.  The portion size is still only enough to feed a half starved pixie, but pair it with a big green salad or another veggie and you might actually have a solid lunch.

Now for the Ranchero Braised Beef.  Same kind of thing. Pretty on the box.

Not so much on the inside.

Tiny portions, though a bit more filling than the chicken marsala.

The flavor here wasn’t bad.  I really enjoyed the chipotle mashed sweet potatoes (I love the combination of chili powder with sweet potatoes in general).  The beef didn’t fair quite as well as the chicken in the reheating department, though it still was better than such things usually are in a frozen dinner.  I didn’t find this over spicy, though some people might.  There are no jalapenos in the box, in case you were worried.

The verdict:  I think Lean Cuisine has really upped their game with this line.  Much better flavor, much better texture and quality of food.  Kudos for that.  My only gripe is that it’s not enough food for me.  Never has been.  This is a snack, not a meal, IMO.

Disclosure: I have partnered with Lean Cuisine through DailyBuzz Food to help promote their new line of Chef’s Pick products. I have been compensated for my time commitment to work with this product. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments. Thank you Lean Cuisine!

Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup

January 30, 2013

I’m always mucking around with my tomato soup recipe.   It’s one of those things that tends to be a “this and that” kind of recipe with some of the same ingredients and some different ones, depending on what’s in the house.  This one gets an out of season flavor boost by roasting the canned tomatoes and some creaminess from neufchatel cheese.  The end result is the perfect flavorful soup to pair with a grilled cheese on a chilly winter day.  Servings: 6 at 147 calories and 7 grams of fat.

 

Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes
  • 2 onions coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tbs kosher salt
  • 4 oz neufchatel cheese

 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Prepare two baking sheets by covering with foil (this just makes for easy clean up) and spraying with cooking spray.

3. Open the cans and pour the contents into a sieve over a 3 quart dutch oven.

4. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze the juice and seeds into the sieve.

5. Put the tomatoes onto one of the baking sheet.

6. Toss the onions and carrots with the olive oil and add to the other baking sheet.

7. Toss the garlic cloves in the last of the oil and put them at the other end.

8. Roast for 20-25 minutes (you don’t want things to get too brown).

9. Scrape the roasted tomatoes, onions, and carrots into the dutch oven.

10. After allowing them to cool for a bit (so you don’t burn your fingers) cut the ends off the garlic cloves and squeeze the roasted garlic into the pot.

11. Add the thyme, salt, and pepper and 3 cups of water.

12. Simmer on low heat for an hour.

13. Using an immersion blender, blend the veggies until smooth.

14. Add the cubed neufchatel cheese and blend until creamy.

Printable version.

 

Beef Stew With Mushrooms and Bacon

January 23, 2013

 

For Christmas this year, my big present was a 3 quart Le Creuset dutch oven.  My initial intention was to make some beef bourginon a la Julia Child, but that required a few things I didn’t have around the house.  So I opted for some straight up beef stew.  At some point during the last few months, I remember seeing a recipe for a beef stew that incorporated mushrooms and bacon, and since I couldn’t find it when I went hunting, I made up my own.  I also utilized a fabulous bag of cippolini onions I found at Walmart of all places.  The end result made the angels, or at least our stomachs, sing.  Hubby is now a believer in the Power of Le Creuset.  I may have created a monster! Servings: 5 at  678 calories and 45.69g of fat.

Beef Stew With Bacon and Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 2.25 lbs chuck roast
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 8 ounces sliced carrots
  • 8 ounces cippolini onions
  • 1.5 cups red potatoes, diced
  • 4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbs cornstarch
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tbs kosher salt
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 4 slices thick slices bacon

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

2. Cut the chuck roast into one inch cubes.

3. Sprinkle with the corn starch, some of the salt and pepper and stir until well coated.

4. Cut the bacon into chunks and cook in a large dutch oven until crispy and remove with a slotted spoon.

5. Pour the bacon grease into a bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons back to your dutch oven.

6. Brown the beef in batches, adding a bit more bacon grease as necessary, then remove to a bowl.

7. Add the carrots and saute until just starting to caramelize.

8. Add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds.

9. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all those lovely brown bits.

10. Add the meat back to the pan.

11. Add the reserved bacon, stock, potatoes, and thyme.  Bring the mixture back to a boil.

12. Cover and place in the oven for 90-120 minutes.

13. Add another tablespoon of bacon grease to a skillet and heat over medium heat.

14. Add the cippolini onions and mushrooms and saute until softened.

15. Add the onions and mushrooms to the dutch oven and cook for another 20 minutes.

Printable version.

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