Posts Tagged spinach

Responding to Accidental Gluten

Disclaimer: This is what happened and how I responded. Nothing that I did would have hurt me yet I don’t know if my first aid measures contributed anything at all to getting safely through. Perhaps I have avoided gluten for so long that my sensitivity level is reduced. But it was scary in a holding-your-breath kind of way and this is how it went down.

    I should have asked but I didn’t. Near the end of the shift there was cake on the break table with the initials of the baker scribbled on a piece of paper. I did not realize that this generous, recipe-sharing cook still made the gluten version for others. I thought that finally I would get to taste her old family favorite realized gluten-free. It was a pound cake and with a cup of coffee it was so wonderful that I not only had another piece I squirreled away a piece for later. Before returning to finish my shift I popped my head in her door to rave; and from the horrified expression on her face I instantly knew.

    I spent the next hour fretting over what I should do upon arriving home.

    Hopefully the fates were with me. Rita and I had learned a great deal in the previous weeks from Chef Alain Braux regarding the use of probiotics to heal a damaged gut. There were a couple of variations of fermented vegetables plus cultured coconut milk in the refrigerator. I had just started taking an extra probiotic dose in the evening as well as my usual morning one. And only the day before had sampled organic raw kambucha. I had weapons and a plan.

Friday 2010-12-17
    I arrived home about 4:30 pm and upon walking in the kitchen consumed a spoonful of organic fermented daikon radish.  Then I popped a mild laxative pill to encourage my often sluggish digestion to pass the gluten through as rapidly as possible.

    I cooked a full pound of frozen chopped spinach for dinner and ate as much of it as I could with a few rice crackers. Later on I finished it – that was a lot of spinach! About 30 minutes later I had a spoonful of the organic fermented sauerkraut. Then while cleaning up in the kitchen I prepared a generous portion of chia seed/pumpkin puree/almond milk pudding for breakfast and set it aside in the fridge. Just before going to bed I had that extra probiotic tablet plus an antihistamine.

    I woke up at about 4:00 am with my guts churning. I decided to sample about two ounces of the cultured coconut milk. It is thick, tummy soothing and tangy, sort of like buttermilk. And so far so good, no red swollen face reaction.

    Up again at 6:00 am and very uncertain as to how this would all play out. I had the chia pudding breakfast with a big mug of green tea and the morning probiotic plus the usual vitamins.

    My stomach was growling at 9:45 am as we departed for our fitness center workout. I decided on another shot of the cultured coconut milk just to keep me over until lunch.

    For lunch I used leftover chicken to make a big bowl of chicken salad with diced celery, romaine lettuce, and olive oil dressing with a spoonful of the fermented sauerkraut mixed in.

    A week later – post Christmas: with all of the above preventative measures plus very cautious eating choices I seem to have come through with no apparent residual effects. Again, nothing about this response was scientific – it was using what was on hand and hoping for the best.

    I am going into the New Year with renewed determination to avoid all gluten as one component for maintaining good health. Just when you think you have all the answers then new discoveries and interesting information appear on the internet and especially the blogosphere.

    Thanks to all of you who blog and those who comment and make suggestions as you participate and share in this incredible learning journey. Best wishes for a healthy and safe year ahead for all of our families, friends, and readers!

Gretchen (Mom) and Rita


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Spinach Mushroom Pie Goes Vegan

SOS Kitchen Challenge
SOS Kitchen Challenge

 This month’s SOS Kitchen Challenge ingredient is spinach.  The choice of spinach as the challenge’s ingredient really kick started my efforts to makeover my long time favorite recipe for Spinach Mushroom Pie. There is nothing like a challenge for motivation – thank you Ricki and Kim! Be sure to check out their sites for lots of other healthy recipe submissions by other bloggers.

   There was such wonderful feedback from my taste-testers on the texture of the Sweet Potato Pie ‘Cheesecake’ at the end of March that I printed out both of my recipes and started splicing. It always helps to have a plan of attack even if you eventually deviate from that plan.

    The blender and I had another ‘go-round’. And the red spatula lost a few more bits. The red shows up and is easy to pick out of the blended mixture so from now on all of my spatulas are going to be red!

   The cashews were soaked for well over twenty-four hours. The spinach was leftover from a batch of sautéed fresh spinach with garlic. The mushrooms were fresh. There was cooked quinoa on hand to use somehow in place of ricotta but I wasn’t too sure about how that would work out. And hazelnut meal was ready to stand in for grated Parmesan to provide taste and texture. Whew! That’s a lot of ingredients to bring together.

Gathering the Ingredients

Gathering the Ingredients

   So the first order of business was to prep the mushrooms. Clean, slice, sauté and put them in the mixing bowl with the spinach. Add 1/2 of the quinoa, hazelnut meal, and seasonings.

Saute the Mushrooms

Saute the Mushrooms

   Drain and rinse the cashews, warm in the microwave briefly (so they don’t solidify the coconut oil) and place them in the blender jar. Pulse the blender gently to begin the breakdown process. Add the warm coconut oil and the remainder of the quinoa also slightly warmed – and work the blender pulse control. This is where I had to improvise. The mixture became too thick sort of like super library paste so I warmed a couple of tablespoons of coconut milk (I was out of almond milk) and added it to the mixture. This was better but still way too thick. So in went another two tablespoons of warm coconut milk (how did we ever function without a microwave?). This was still incredibly thick but at least it was manageable. This is where I considered adding more liquid but the spinach and mushroom mixture had its own liquid going so I just dumped and scraped the nut mixture into the spinach mixture and stirred it all together.

   The pie plate was previously prepped with a coating of hazelnut meal stuck on with coconut oil (far left in the ingredients picture). Next all of the filling was carefully spooned into the ‘crust’, smoothed over, and moved into the 350*F oven where it baked for 45 minutes. I had no clue as to ‘how long’ to bake it – the ‘cheesecake’ had taken an hour. The pie was tested at 30 minutes with a thin knife and returned to the oven for another 15 minutes. After that test I returned the pie to the oven with the heat turned off so that the remainder cooked on residual heat. So it took a full hour like that ‘cheesecake’. Did I mention that the kitchen now smelled deliciously of all the herbs?
   After removing from the oven (total oven time was 60 minutes) the pie sat on a cooling rack while my guilty conscious drove me out into the yard to pull weeds and cut back the stems on the bloomed-out irises. Plus I was afraid of burning my tongue if I tasted this experiment too soon and all of you know what that is like! Finally it was cool enough to put in the fridge so I could ignore it for a while longer and allow the seasonings to mellow. And it was so worth the wait . . .

Looks Good, Smells Savory, Tastes Yummy!

Looks Good, Smells Savory, Tastes Yummy!

Spinach Mushroom Pie Goes Vegan
3 tablespoons hazelnut meal
Cooking oil or spray to coat a 9” diameter pie pan

1 cup raw cashews, soaked for 24 hours (1 1/3 cup expanded)(138 g)
2 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut butter, slightly warm
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup cooked quinoa, warm
1/4-1/2 cup coconut milk, warm

2 cups chopped, steamed fresh spinach
or 1 package (10-16 ounces) chopped, frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
or 1 can spinach, well drained
1 8-ounce package sliced fresh mushrooms, sautéed
or 1 8-ounce can sliced mushroom, well drained
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup hazelnut meal
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground dried savory

Plan ahead: At least one day before put the cashews to soak and cook enough quinoa so that you will have 1 cup for the pie filling. Store the quinoa in the fridge and the cashews as well if they soak for more than the 24 hours (and that’s OK).

Prepare a 9” pie pan by coating it with oil or spray. Sprinkle the 3 tablespoons of hazelnut meal into the pan and then tilt and rotate it to distribute the meal to create a very thin ‘crust’. Do this maneuver over the bowl for mixing the filling so that any spills are saved – set the pan aside. Turn the oven to 350*F.

Put the spinach and mushrooms in your mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup of quinoa, hazelnut meal, and dried herbs. Stir well to distribute the seasonings.

Drain the water from the cashews. If they have been refrigerated then warm them in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Dump them into the blender jar. Add the coconut butter, sea salt, the 1/2 cup warmed quinoa, and 1/4 cup coconut milk. Start the blender and begin to break down the cashews, pulsing and pausing to scrape down the sides as needed. Dial up the blender speed and begin to puree the mixture; again pulsing and pausing to scrape down the sides as needed.

Add the remainder of the coconut milk only if you really need it but do not hesitate if you do need it. The worst that can happen is that it takes a few minutes longer to bake. When the blender mixture is perfectly smooth like nut butter then add all of it to the vegetable/herb mixture and stir so that all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. Carefully spoon the mixture into the prepared pie plate and smooth down the top. Transfer the pan to the oven and set the timer for the first test (about 30 minutes). It will not be ready unless you have a really hot oven. Testing is similar to any other baked item – the knife should come out relatively clean. Add another 15 minutes and test again. If it is still not ready then put it back, turn off the heat, and go away for 15-30 minutes.

Cool the dish on a rack before cutting into serving portions. This recipe provides 4-8 servings depending on the rest of the meal. I cut it into 8ths so that it lasts more days for breakfasts and snacks!


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Ken’s Salad Dressings

   In the post-holiday, workout, trim-back-down season it gets crowded up at the fitness center. We’ve been going a little later in the evening when it is easier to make use of the equipment without a lengthy wait. Part of the strategy also is to cut back on calories and for me that means load up on the salads and fresh veggies – not much baking going on right now.

   Theoretically I know that it doesn’t take that much effort to whip up a homemade salad dressing and wow, they are so much tastier than bottled dressing from the grocery store. But I don’t have the dedication to do that every time so there is always the gluten-free dressing in the fridge or pantry for a fall-back option to keep the diet on track. Ken’s Salad Dressings has many options ranging from fat-free, light, regular, gourmet and a few other choices. I am a big fan of Balsamic Vinaigrette and Chunky Blue Cheese – not your low-cal versions by any means but if it tastes really good it helps me to stay on track.

Easy Spinach Florentine
In the cold weather something hot is good too and I pull together this tasty, low-cal dish in a jiffy with these ingredients:

1 cup cooked greens, from a can or microwaved from frozen (your favorite greens)
Garlic powder
Sea salt
1 generous tablespoon of Ken’s Chunky Blue Cheese

Ken's Chunky Blue Cheese Salad Dressing

Ken's Chunky Blue Cheese Salad Dressing

Put the ingredients in a microwave safe dish and microwave for 30-40 seconds. Dig in. It is healthy, low in carbs and calories, high in vitamins and a bunch of other stuff that is really good for you. Do something good for yourself and it gives you a lift!


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Spinach Casserole

    This is another one of those versatile recipes that can be a side dish or a full meal with vegetarian options as needed. The truth is this recipe was inspired by the Greek Spanakopita spinach, onion, cheese, and herb pie. The mushroom layer is optional and not even part of the dish that inspired this – I just like mushrooms a lot and the ones in the produce section were locally grown and looked especially good. This is a great low-carb meal for the New Year’s get-back-in-shape resolutions as well as a super healthy year around choice.
    The spinach layer is where the essential combination of seasonings comes together. Fresh parsley really sparks this and it is worth waiting to get your hands on some before you put this together. I scattered a packet of seeds in the flower bed 4-5 years ago. In spite of my black thumb, deer, rabbits, Texas sun, and most recently freezing rain there was still fresh green parsley out there on January 1for this recipe. The dill came dried in a jar; you can use garlic powder, but please find fresh parsley somewhere. The lemon zest is part of the classic seasoning but afterwards I decided not to use it anymore.
   Classic Spanakopita is enclosed in rich flaky phyllo pastry dough. This casserole ignores all grains and either stands alone or layers with meat, tofu, or beans. We had some extra lean ground turkey with Italian seasonings in the freezer that I sautéed for the bottom layer to make a hearty meal for Rita and David before they departed for Virginia. The leftovers made my lunches for a couple of days . . . .

Spinach Casserole
Optional extra protein layer:
1 lb. ground lean meat, well seasoned
Equivalent amount of seasoned tofu
2 cups of cooked, seasoned drained beans

Optional mushroom layer:
1 tablespoon olive oil for sautéing
1/2 lb. fresh sliced mushrooms

Spinach layer:
1 tablespoon olive oil for sautéing
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
1 lb. spinach (frozen OK, fresh is better)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon ground dill
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Cheese and egg mixture:
2 large eggs
8 ounces feta cheese, coarsely grated, reduced fat OK
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, green can OK
1/3 to 1/2 cup thick yogurt or sour cream, low-fat OK

Prepare your optional protein layer and set aside. If using mushrooms then sprinkle lightly with sea salt, sauté them in a skillet with a bit of olive oil until they are fragrant and slightly brown and then set them aside.

Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and sauté the onion and garlic. When they are translucent then add the spinach, cover, and steam until the spinach is bright green and tender, maybe 6-8 minutes. Add the parsley, dill, and lemon seasonings and mix well.

Lightly oil a square, oven-proof baking dish. Cover the bottom with cooked ground meat, sautéed seasoned tofu, or your favorite cooked beans (well drained) if you use this layer. Then layer the sautéed mushrooms in if you are using them. Then carefully spoon the spinach mixture in next. Beat the eggs and dairy products together and spoon over the spinach, spreading to cover.

Place the casserole in a 350*F oven and bake for about 35-40 minutes. The mixture will be firm enough to cut into squares for serving. Let it cool for 5 minutes or so before serving. The recipe makes about 6 – 8 servings depending on your layers and how hungry you are.


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Amy’s Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup

   I always loved my mother’s homemade lentil soup. Ever since then lentils and carrots seemed to me like a naturally ordained pairing. When Sprouts opened a new store nearby in Round Rock their prominently displayed gluten-free labels brought the Amy’s Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup to my attention and I decided to try it. This is really good soup. Not fancy, not too pricey, and just perfect to have in the pantry for a quick meal when there are no leftovers to be found in the fridge.
   The ingredients are simple organic vegetables, organic olive oil, sea salt and spices. The label specifies that the herbs and spices contain no hidden ingredients. While the facility does process wheat, I have personally had no gluten reaction. Instead my tummy is full of warm soup and I have an overall feeling of contented well-being after a bowl of this tasty, balanced, nutrition-packed soup.
This is not to be confused with the basic Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup which has fewer vegetables – read the labels and pick the one you like. I choose the one with more veggies (and spices)!


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