Archive for April, 2010

Zio’s Italian Kitchen in Georgetown, Texas

I love writing about it when restaurants advertise and produce amazing gluten-free food. And how hard is it when most food is naturally gluten-free? And I really am bummed out when they advertise gluten-free but fail the reality test.

Zio’s Italian Kitchen recently opened here in Georgetown and the newspaper advertised gluten-free options. Here is their ‘gluten-free’ menu on their Texas website –> GLUTEN FREE MENU. The menu begins with a single appetizer option, baked formaggio, a blend of five cheeses – topped off with grilled Italian bread; more about that later. The salads look OK as do the entrees. No desserts are listed. If you click on the dessert menu you see that all of the desserts are based on baked goods, cake, lady fingers, cheesecake with crust and standard cheesecake recipes often contain a tablespoon or two of flour.

The menus we were handed at Zio’s did not have gluten-free options listed. The waiter assured me that we could make it work. We had a newspaper coupon for a free appetizer so we thought to give it a try. I pulled out my gluten-free menu printed from the internet and before I could say a word the waiter recommended the bruschetta – “you just don’t eat the bread”. Mental alarm bells went off like crazy. I tried to ask a question about the formaggio but could never get a word in edgewise. How much confidence can you have in ordering from someone who doesn’t know formaggio from bruschetta? Isn’t ordering bruschetta and ‘not eating the bread’ sort of like ordering birthday cake and not eating the cake? We decided to skip that little drama as well as the appetizer.

There is no gluten-free pasta or bread available never mind dessert. For a salad you can request that they hold the croutons. For an entrée you can have your food piled on top of your choice of vegetables. I’ve been doing that for years and do not consider it a special gluten-free menu. My entrée choice served on spinach came in a huge bowl plainly meant to contain a generous serving of pasta. It looked pathetically small although it was enough food that I was no longer hungry.

I didn’t get sick – is that a recommendation?



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Tarragon Pickled Beets

   This month’s Diet, Dessert and Dogs SOS Kitchen Challenge ingredient is beets. My entry is really a two-fer; my adapted recipe plus the original one that inspired it. I never make the inspiration recipe anymore but I just wanted to share it as a hot vegetable option.
   The Tarragon Pickled Beets recipe is so simple it hardly qualifies as a recipe. It was adapted from a Harvard-style beet recipe to make one of my ‘Mason jar specials’ that were brown-bag lunch staples while I was working in the corporate world. There were 4-5 different ones that I made up for lunch treats. You don’t have to have a genuine Mason-type jar but you do need a jar with a tightly sealing lid. Fresh cooked beets, tender and sweet, are ideal if you have them. A 16-ounce can of sliced, diced or cut beets from your pantry will get you there also.

Tarragon Pickled Beets
Sweetener of choice, equivalent to 2 tablespoons sugar or more to taste (I use stevia)
2 T. apple cider vinegar (lemon juice for Candida diet)
1/2 t. dried tarragon
1 3/4 – 2 cups beets
Reserved beet juice

Put an ounce or two of beet juice in the jar. Stir in the sweetener, vinegar, and tarragon and then carefully spoon in the beets (so that red juice doesn’t splash and stain). Add enough reserved beet juice to cover your beets. Screw on the lid to make sure it is sealed and won’t leak. Shake to distribute the juice and seasonings evenly. Keep them in the fridge until you are ready to use them.

Filling the Jar
Filling the Jar

Harvard Beets
(even then I was choosing gluten-free)
2 T sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 T lemon juice
1/3 cup juice from beets
1 16-oz can sliced beets, drained
Mix the sugar, salt, paprika, cornstarch, lemon juice and beet juice in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Add the beets and continue until beets are heated through.

Even though officially retired I still make the Tarragon Pickled Beets to jazz up lunch or garnish a salad every now and again.


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Jason’s Deli in Austin, TX

   I cannot even remember the last time I ordered a sandwich at a restaurant. Sandwiches always made me feel ill-at-ease and wishing I had chosen something else. Number 1 Son (our private little joke) Jorge and I used to eat at a Jason’s Deli in Arlington, Texas when I was consulting at some company or other in that area. My go-to selection was always The Plain Jane baked potato with all of the condiments on the side and that was a good, solid meal.
   When the pressing need for more allergy medication and the news that Jason’s Deli at the Arboretum in Austin (mere blocks away from Whole Foods which carries said medication) has gluten-free bread it was fate. Of course we had lunch there yesterday!
   When I started to order a Turkey Reuben a very knowledgeable staff person explained to me the possibility of cross-contamination because of the conveyer belt in their special oven where those sandwiches are prepared. Don’t you just LOVE it when people know what they are talking about?
   So I ordered the Mediterranean Wrap on the gluten-free bread with a side of fresh fruit. I never could sing and I haven’t danced in years but about two bites into that sandwich I felt like doing both. Copied from the menu (I brought one home with me): 98% fat free oven roasted turkey breast, roasted red pepper hummus, cucumbers, purple onions, kalamata olives, roma tomatoes and organic field greens with the gluten-free bread instead of the organic wheat wrap.
   All that remained on my plate after lunch was two toothpicks and the caps from the three wonderful strawberries that accompanied the three large chunks of perfect cantaloupe. Oh, and Don wiped a bit of hummus off my face when we were walking back to the car . . .
   To the management of Jason’s Deli – thank you and keep it up!!!! I only get into Austin occasionally but you can bet I will return for lunch at Jason’s. Oh, and wouldn’t you like to build a deli in Georgetown? Or even Round Rock? Please?


Update 4/29/2010 – This email received from Clara and Jenna, another gluten-free Mother-Daughter duo:
    What a wonderful meal we had at Jason’s this evening!  Jenna had her old fave, the Club Royale, prepared w/the wonderful g-f bread.  She promptly gobbled down the entire sandwich & declared it fabulous.  I had my old fave, the Deli Club, on the g-f bread – outstanding. 
    I spoke w/the mgr., who had helped us w/our order.  He said the bread’s been receiving very positive reviews.  This location is one of only two Jason’s test locations for the g-f bread.  He didn’t know how long the test marketing would go on.

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Gluten-free in Austin, TX Blog

   There is a new blog in Austin scouting out and posting about gluten-free sources! That would be grocery, bakery, deli, restaurants, pubs, etc. I have added ATX Gluten-Free to our blog roll. Can you tell I am excited? The Austin and Central Texas area is really getting on board much like they have strongly supported the vegan needs for many years. Don and I already planned to go to Whole Foods at The Arboretum because I need more of my homeopathic allergy medication. Now there are a couple of new products to try.
   Annnd, Jason’s Deli at The Arboretum is testing customer response to gluten-free sandwiches! I don’t even remember the last time I ate a sandwich at a restaurant. Not only do they post nutrition information but they have a separate listing for common allergens including gluten. Gluten-free shopping and lunch!


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Roasted Chickpea and Artichoke Salad for a Potluck

   I do not, really, do not know what led me to try Ricki’s Warm Chickpea and Artichoke Salad. The idea of a warm salad didn’t grab me immediately – maybe because our Central Texas weather is warming and the birds are singing, building nests, flowers are blooming, weeds popping up, etc. I like chickpeas okay and the same with artichokes. Maybe it was Ricki’s picture with all the herbs. But it kept hanging around in the back of my thoughts until I finally felt compelled to try it. I bought a can of artichokes and with the can of chickpeas on hand put it together. It was good – some things are better than the sum of their parts and this was unexpectedly one of those. A few days later I decided to repeat the recipe with home-cooked chickpeas. That was even better. Plus I added chopped romaine and had it as a cold salad. Then I shared it with Ann and then Andrea who both loved it. Then our neighborhood had the spring potluck earlier this week and I made a TRIPLE batch of this salad. I have been craving this salad like it was cookies and wonder just what is going on with my taste buds.
   Starting with dry beans adds greatly to the overall taste and experience. I soaked the dry beans for over 24 hours until they swelled to double the original size and looked like they were going to sprout (drained and the water replaced after about 12 hours). Then they were drained again and cooked in fresh water with a lid on the pot. The liquid needs skimming occasionally as the white foam bubbles up. Then they simmer quietly on the stove for 90 minutes. Quickly drain them and return the hot chickpeas to the pot. Put the lid back on and set aside to continue cooking in the residual heat and to finally cool down. You can continue the salad from this point but I prefer to do this prep the day before I start the second phase. They are stored in the refrigerator until needed.
   The second preparation phase involves pan-roasting the chickpeas and artichokes, separately. While Ricki’s warm salad came together very quickly this one takes me a couple of days staging for everything to marinate before adding the fresh greens. (Sighhh, the extra time is so worth it)
   The third and final preparation step is to chop a head of fresh romaine and mix with the marinated chickpeas and artichokes – no other embellishments required. I had leftovers only because 1) I made a huge punch bowlful and 2) there were 5-6 other bowls of fresh homemade salads.

Roasted Chickpea and Artichoke Salad – 4-6 servings
1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, well drained (1 cup dry chickpeas before cooking)
6-8 artichoke hearts (about one large can), well drained and quartered
1/3 cup natural almonds, coarsely chopped or sesame seeds or pepitas, totally optional

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (I used celery leaves :-))
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more, to taste
Romaine or other seasonal salad greens

Prepare the chickpeas and set aside.
Open the artichokes and drain them well. Cut into quarters and set aside.

Pour 1-2 tablespoons olive oil into a skillet. When the oil is hot add the chickpeas. Cook over medium heat until they are a light golden color (10-15 minutes, longer if you double/triple the batch). Remove the chickpeas to a salad bowl large enough to contain your completed salad.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Add the quartered artichokes and roast them over medium heat turning them very gently occasionally so as to not break them (they are already very tender). Add the garlic and dry herbs along the way. When the artichokes are roasted and the herbs are fragrant add them to the chickpeas in the salad bowl. Add the balsamic vinegar, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Mix the ingredients together so that the herbs and dressing are distributed throughout. Cover the bowl and put the salad into the refrigerator to marinate and mellow. It is really good if you have a full day for this – although it is not critical as there is plenty of flavor going on.

To complete the salad you will add chopped greens of your choosing. I like to use romaine. You can add more or less to your liking. If you add more greens you may want to add a bit more dressing as the chickpeas seem to absorb quite a bit during the marinade process.

The first time I made this I used Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette. An oil and vinegar dressing of any type is good once you have the basic seasonings in place. The very nutritious main ingredients are rather bland on their own – it is the seasoning and dressing that makes it great!

BTW – Ellen DeGeneres has gone vegan and sugar-free and Ricki wants to be the expert that is invited to appear on The Ellen Show and cook for Ellen. Ricki needs support for her ‘Quest for Ellen’. Please read about it and then link to Ellen’s page and compose a request citing Ricki as just the expert she needs!
Click right here ->EL-LENd Me A Hand! Thanks!


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Poached Egg on Toast

   One of the breakfasts that Don used to cook on Sunday was poached eggs on toast. We didn’t have it often so when we did it was a real treat. In recent years I tried poached egg on rice cake, on cooked brown rice, on socca (a gluten-free pancake made from chickpea flour), on spinach, plain on a plate, and there was never a home run on the substitute for toast. There were some wraps I bake that are very close to toast in flavor and crumb but they do not soak up the egg like proper toast.
   This breakfast was one of the first things that I thought about with the sliced white bread from Faith’s Place Bakery that I was raving about earlier this week. Six remaining slices went into the freezer for future use and this morning one of them came out for the breakfast treat of long ago.

Fried Toast
   Homemade bread does not fit my toaster because it does not adapt to various slice sizes – the toaster is older than any of my children. I learned about ‘fried toast’ many years ago in Georgia at a little roadside diner. Friends and I had stopped for breakfast. As one of the ladies bit into her toast her eyes lit up and she exclaimed ‘fried toast, they made fried toast!’. This was explained as a very old Southern custom but it was not one I had heard of at that time or since. Even then it seemed exceptional.
   If you do an internet search for ‘fried toast’ you mostly get variations on recipes that call for egg and milk. Don also makes that version and we call it French toast (I don’t know why). There is an English video that explains how to make ‘fried bread’ with cooking oil which is very similar (as part of a ‘full English breakfast’). Wikipedia describes several variations of  ‘Fried bread’.
   But the Southern version of ‘fried toast’ is just buttered bread that is grilled briefly on each side in a skillet until it is as dark as you prefer. And that is how I made the toast for my poached egg. It didn’t take any longer than Don’s bread in the toaster. With the poached egg quivering on top it made quite a presentation. And don’t you know, I forgot to take a picture!


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Faith’s Place Bakery in Round Rock, Texas

   My friend Ann saved a section of the Round Rock newspaper for me that had a feature article about a new local bakery specializing in gluten-free products. It was a very nice write-up about Sarah Cox who started baking gluten-free for herself and her daughter Faith and has since expanded her efforts to the benefit of the local community.
   The picture of the bread on the website for Faith’s Place Bakery was so reminiscent of my paternal grandmother’s awesome homemade bread that I just had to try some. When I finally had a loaf of this beautiful and fragrant sliced bread in my hands I just admired it and smelled it for a while. My own gluten-free bread efforts, while adequate, have never transported me back to ‘bread land’ like this.
   The crust on this bread is just like the website pictures and the texture is exactly what you want from a good homemade loaf. I reserved some of the slices in the freezer for one of Don’s specialties, poached eggs on toast. The rest I rather shamelessly ate one slice at a time while marveling over the fragrance, flavor, and texture.
   There are other goodies on the menu. There is even gluten-free catering service available if you, your family, or friends are in need of excellent quality gluten-free options. The bakery location is easy to find from the RR 620 exit and east from I-35 in central Round Rock. There is a map on the website for easy directions.


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