Thursday, February 28, 2013

Get Well Pho

While I was sick, I wasn't doing too much of anything, except sleeping.  I slept 12-14 hours a day. During the times I was awake, I barely had the energy to make it to the couch to watch TV.   When I ate, food was quick and easy.  I lost my taste, and most days nothing sounded good.  If something actually sounded good, I ate it, only to be disappointed because it had no flavor.

A couple years ago, I had a bad winter cold.  My friend insisted I need a big bowl of chicken "fuh" to feel better. 

Ummm, what?  

You know, "fuh" from that place over by that market. 

Oh, that's what that is?  "Pho" is pronounced "fuh"?  Gotcha.

So I went with her and got a big bowl of pho. 

It was steaming hot and smelled amazing and tasted even better.  You could tell the broth was homemade and simmered from bones all day long.  There was an assortment of bits and pieces you could get in your pho like tendons and tripe, but I stuck with something "safe" and got thinly sliced steak. 

After the first bite, I was hooked.  Don't tell anyone, but I like it better than my mom's chicken noodle soup she made when we were kids.

Now, since I have been sick, I have been lazy and using lots of shortcuts.  

 Yes, I know it's way better to cut up a chicken and simmer it for hours and make a rich, nourishing stock.  But when you are only out of bed for 2 hours a day (that's a generous number, too), you don't have time to simmer a stock and make a fancy meal.  

So this is the shortcut way to make a big bowl of pho.   

Get Well Chicken Pho

1-2 carton(s) Chicken Pho Soup Base
1lb seasoned ground pork sausage (once again, I cheated used "Potsticker" flavor fresh made sausage from the local market...but use plain, add 2 finely chopped green onions, 2tbl finely diced red bell pepper, and salt, pepper, soy sauce and freshly grated ginger to taste)
1/2 of a 14 oz package rice noodles, prepared according to package directions, drained (I use the Taste of Thai stir fry noodles)
A handful of dried Shiitake mushrooms, prepared according to package directions
1 package fresh bean sprouts, rinsed
1 Lime cut in wedges
1 bunch basil, roughly torn
1 bunch cilantro, roughly torn

Preheat oven to 400*.  Shape pork into walnut sized meatballs.  In a heavy oven safe skillet, melt coconut oil over medium high heat.  Brown meatballs on one side for about 2-3 minutes.Carefully turn meatballs over, turn off stove, and place skillet in the oven for 10-15 minutes until meatballs are cooked completely (165* internal temperature). 

In a pot heat soup base until it starts to come to a boil. Don't let it boil away for too long, you just want to get it to serving temperature. 

In a deep soup bowl, place a portion of the noodles in the bottom, followed by a small handful of bean sprouts, a few meatballs, and a bit of the shiitake mushrooms.  Ladle hot broth over the top.  Top with basil and cilantro and a lime wedge.  Serve immediately. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sweet and Sour Pork

I remember going to my grandma's house every year for my mom's birthday and drooling over a giant turkey platter piled full of homemade sweet and sour pork.  Bite sizes of crispy pork and chunks of luscious pineapple swimming in a golden sauce that was perfectly sweet yet perfectly sour.  I always looked forward to mom's birthday dinner, so I could eat some of my favorite foods!  

When you have to change your eating due to food allergies, it's not like being on a diet.  You can't have your once a year/month/week binge and make up for it by working out extra hard at the gym or having lettuce for dinner.  If you have your binge, you are left with consequences far greater than an extra pound on the scale. You can become violently ill or break out in a rash, or even worse, suffer an anaphylaxis reaction.  Often times, the reaction you have to the offending food can last much longer than your initial reaction, lasting for days, weeks, or even months, leaving you suffering with headaches, body aches, digestive issues, and countless other issues.  For me, if I eat foods with gluten, I wake up the next morning feeling like I am extremely hungover.  I'm tired, nauseous, irritable, and achy.  Each time I eat gluten, it leaves me wanting more gluten, starting that entire cycle all over.  

It can be frustrating to try to convert your favorite family recipes to a gluten-free version.  The flours generally don't work on their own, the suggested make-your-own kinds can be costly, and the pre-made "cup-for-cup" all-purpose flours just don't always seem to work out in your favorite cake or cookie recipe.   Plus, many of those pre-made blends have other ingredients I can't, shouldn't, or won't eat.  Luckily, this recipe only calls for a small amount of flour, and I found substituting with a gluten-free all-purpose flour that worked just fine. As always, make sure that all ingredients are free of any allergens you need to avoid.

I think the key to this recipe is frying the pork twice to achieve that truly cripsy batter.  It's a little bit of extra time, but totally worth it! 

Since this is a special occasion dish for us, and it's usually made for a family get-together, I tend to double or quadruple the recipe.

Gluten Free Sweet and Sour Pork

1 lb pork tenderloin, visible fat trimmed, cut into 1" cubes
Your favorite high-heat oil for frying

1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. organic cornstarch
1/4 c. gluten-free all purpose flour (I'm really liking this brand right now)
1/4 c. chicken broth
1 tsp. grated ginger (fresh or powdered)

1 tbl. organic corn starch mixed with 1tbl. water till smooth
1 8oz. can chunk pineapple in 100% juice (not syrup)
1 TBL gluten free soy sauce/liquid aminos/coconut aminos
5 tbl rice vinegar (not seasoned)
5 tbl organic sugar
1/2 bell pepper, cut in small chunks

Preheat oven to 250*.  Set aside an oven safe shallow dish (like a jelly roll pan) lined with a  couple paper towels. 

Heat a dutch oven or deep heavy skillet to 350* with approximately 2" of oil. 

Mix together egg, salt, cornstarch, flour, chicken broth, and ginger until batter is smooth. I like to use the blender for this.  Place cut up pork in a large bowl and pour batter over the pork.  Make sure to coat each piece of pork completely with batter. 

Working quickly, carefully place pork, one piece at a time, into hot oil with tongs and dry to a light golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.  Work in batches and be sure not to crowd the pork, or it will clump together and the yummy batter will fall off.  When you take your first pieces of pork out of the oil.  Place them on the oven safe baking dish layered with paper towels.  Place the baking dish in the preheated oven, adding each batch of pork until you are finished frying all the pork.  Leave in the oven until a few minutes before serving.

Use a candy thermometer to make sure your oil is the proper temperature.
In a medium sized saucepan, mix together cornstarch water mixture, vinegar, and soy sauce.  Add the juice from the can of pineapple into the sauce pan as well, reserving the pineapple chunks.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add pineapple and cook for one minute.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until ready to serve.

Sauce waiting to meet the crispy pork
While the sauce is cooking, reheat the oil back to 350*.  Add the pork back to the oil and fry once more until a medium golden brown and it's extra crispy.  If you need to fry in batches, make sure to keep the pork in the oven so it doesn't get cold and soggy.

Place twice fried pork in a large serving dish.  Pour sauce over the top.  Serve immediately.   

So much yummy goodness, you won't want to share! 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Garlic Noodles

Even when it comes to birthday dinners, I always try to add as much extra veggies to a dish as possible without going crazy overboard.  Mom's birthday dinner was no exception.  I had decided on these yummy sounding garlic noodles from Crepes of Wrath, but decided that they needed more veggies and more garlic, because you can never have enough garlic.  I was really happy with how they turned out, and everyone went back for seconds! 

If you don't overcook your noodles (like I did), your noodles will look much prettier.

Garlic Noodles

14 ounces rice noodles (I use the Taste of Thai stir fry noodles....they are GF)
2 tbl coconut oil
1 large bunch chopped green onions (whites and greens)
1 small head of garlic, chopped (about 6-8 cloves)
4 small heads of baby bok choy, rinsed thoroughly and finely chopped
1 bell pepper, small dice
A handful or two of fresh bean sprouts
1/4 c. brown sugar
1tbl gf soy sauce/liquid aminos/coconut aminos
2 tablespoon gf oyster sauce

Cook the noodles according to package instructions, but keep them slightly undercooked.  Rinse and set aside. 

While the noodles are cooking, heat a large deep skillet over medium-high heat and melt the coconut oil.  Add the bok choy and bell peppers and stir fry about 2 minutes.  Add the green onions and garlic and cook for another minute.  Do not allow garlic to burn!  Add the brown sugar, soy sauce, and oyster sauce to the veggies and cook for a minute until it's hot.  Finally, add the noodles and bean sprouts and toss until thoroughly mixed and the veggies and sauce are evenly distributed over the noodles.  Serve immediately.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Homemade Chinese Food

My mom's birthday fell on Chinese New Year's this year and my sis and I decided that she needed a homemade Chinese Food Feast for her Birthday dinner.  I remember my grandma used to always make Chinese food for my mom for her birthday...sweet and sour pork, beef and broccoli, and egg rolls.  All of mom's favorites! 

I think I get my food allergies from my mom.  She has anaphalaxis reactions to shrimp, which pretty much eliminates going out to many restaurants.  She can't even eat something that has come into contact with shrimp or she could die. Super scary! 

Of course, I decided that I would make the stuff Grandma used to make...sweet and sour pork, beef and noodles, fried rice, lemon chicken and three other chicken dishes. And of course, they would all be gluten free so I could eat them.  And, because it would be a feast with leftovers for the week to come, I would make double, triple, or even quadruple of each recipe.  

Did I mention that I have slowly been recovering from pneumonia lately?  

That I hosted a Super Bowl Party the week before while I was just getting over the worst of being sick and was totally exhausted for days afterwards?

  That there was going to be 13 people for dinner at my house?  

That I got totally overwhelmed looking at all the groceries and the menu I planned that I started to have an anxiety attack?  

 You could say that I tend to take on too much...  I'm slowly learning that the hard way....

Luckily, my mom, being the sweet angel that she is, volunteered to come help me cook her own birthday dinner. We spent 4.5 hours chopping, stir-frying, boiling, baking, and deep frying a feast that, that when it was all done, would have fed a small country. Dave was amazing and totally cleaned up the house to make it "company ready."

One thing I did do, was cheat and buy a few pre-made seasoning packets for the chicken dishes.  I did my best to find ones that were free from MSG, visible gluten, and all the gunk you usually find in pre-made foods.  They tasted good, but they aren't a part of our diet and are something I only would buy when having a big dinner party like this.  The did taste EXACTLY like your local take out.

I did, however,  make sweet and sour pork, beef and broccoli, noodles, and fried rice all from scratch.  

First, I made the beef and broccoli from this yummy recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.  In my haste, I forgot to marinate the meat, so I just added some Braggs Liquid Aminos (gf soy sauce replacement) while the meat was cooking and it still turned out fantastic.  

I also made Iowa Girl's fried rice.  It was great and tasted just like takeout. Minor changes....I used white rice instead of brown, frozen peas and fresh diced carrots in place of the frozen mixed veggies, and liquid aminos in place of the soy sauce.

Then I made my version of Garlic Noodles from Crepes of Wrath.  I'll post my version of that soon! 

And finally, I made my  grandma's "famous" sweet and sour pork.  Mom and I figured out how to make the batter gluten free.  It was so tasty, exactly like Grandma makes it.  That recipe will be coming soon as well! 

In the end, everyone loved the food, the family had some quality time together, and my mom had a great birthday.  And to top it all off, my mom snuck over to my house the next day while I was at work, and finished cleaning up the kitchen.  Who does that?

Mom, next year, I think I'm going to scale back dinner, or just take you out for a steak and let the professionals take care of everything.