Holiday Reminders for Gluten Free Eaters

By Rachel Sircy

Lunch table / salad‘Tis the season for eating other people’s cooking. Unfortunately, eating with family and friends poses special challenges for those with dietary restrictions. There are a few tricks, however, that can make the holiday get-togethers more manageable.

First, talk to the host of the party beforehand!

It’s important to make your needs known well ahead of time so your host can coordinate with everyone who may be bringing a dish. It also helps to be as specific as possible. It’s tempting to want to avoid imposition, but, believe me, your fellow partygoers will feel worse if they end up making you sick.

Second, always offer to bring a dish or two of your own, so you will have something that you know is safe to eat.

I have often run into well-meaning family members who think they’re making something gluten free but end up adding gluten through an ingredient they never thought to check. There is nothing quite as frustrating as standing in front of a table stacked high with delicious food that all happens to be off limits to you. This is especially important for parents whose children have dietary restrictions. It’s difficult for adults to people eat off limits food in front of them, imagine the way a child would feel. Make sure you have safe treats for your kids!

Finally, if you absolutely can’t bring anything or speak to the host ahead of time, make sure to eat before you go.

The motto of a longtime gluten free eater is, “Never show up hungry!” Make what you’d like to eat at home and show up full, so you’re not tempted to grab anything off of the dessert table. I always think it’s a good idea to hit up the health food store for some favorite gluten free snacks and bars to keep in my car or purse. I try never to go anywhere without food, especially when I know there will be lots of delicious temptations where I’m going.

Happy holidays and safe eating everyone!

 

Our Lucky Collards

By Shannon Boatwright

img_1063It’s the new year, and we’re all eager to kick start our year with positive thoughts, wishes and goals of good health, abundant happiness, and financial security. One of my traditions is to cook a new year meal that “promotes” and “represents” all these things. Black eyed peas, collards, pork chops/ham, cornbread, and grapes are the staples for our good luck meal. My favorite is the collards. I always like to buy my collards from local farmers: they’re the best, the real deal, and even the most affordable.

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Over the years, family members and friends have taught me all sorts of tips and tricks to making the best collards ever. These tricks range from making sure to wash the collards 3 times (I wash mine 4 times and use some vinegar when I do the last two washes), to cutting the collards into the shape of dollar bills (I like to pretend mine are $100 bills), to putting chunks of ham in the collards as they cook.

I like to cook two batches. For one (my favorite), I just use chicken broth, good ole Lawry’s seasoning, fresh garlic cloves, salt, and pepper. This year we actually had some leftover ham, so I put some ham chunks in as they cooked to add to the flavor. The other batch I make super spicy, with pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic salt, and whatever our favorite hot sauce is at the time –whether it’s Sriracha hot sauce or Tapatio’s hot sauce.  The collards are always my favorite part of the meal because it’s something I typically end up cooking literally only once a year.

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This year I scored a total win with my parents. I actually got my Dad, who has always claimed to not care for any cooked greens, to try my collards. I had to do a little convincing, but he loves spicy things, and I think when he saw my spicy collards cooking, he couldn’t resist. Let’s just say, I got him to come around, and he officially admitted that he likes my collards! Plus, my Mama declared that my regular collards were the best she’d ever had!

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Though there has been a bit of a collards shortage this year due to the hurricanes and cold weather, you can still find some. And guess what, if you didn’t get your good luck new year meal in yet, it’s still January, so you’ve got time! I’d love to hear about any cool, good luck foods you and your family eat to bring in the new year, so do share!

Here’s to a new year full of wealth! Wealth in health, happiness, and money!

Once Upon a Time…

By Rhonda Woods

Hello Everyone!

“Once upon a time…” is a game my granddaughters like to play while riding with me.  We all take turns adding to the story, and as you can imagine, their stories always include a mermaid or princess.  What fun and memories we are making!  The older three were with me this past weekend for some Nana spoiling.  The sleepover included running, squealing, laughing, playing, and ice cream cones.  I even took them bowling.  Yep, that’s right, I took them bowling by myself!  Adventurous, right?  None of this would princess-869721_960_720have been possible without my constant prayers for peace and God’s merciful grace answering those prayers.  I have faith that my life story will have a ” …. and she lived happily ever after” page.

My family, friends, and students have been happy to see me as I once was- energetic, confident, and “large and in charge!”  With two weeks of school left in the first semester, my tasks included finishing up quizzes, tests, and exams and a faculty/staff lunch.  The students stayed busy helping me freshen up the commercial kitchen for the new semester and preparing foods for practice labs.  Between the two classes, the students made Waffle Iron Brownies, Cinnamon Rolls, Buttermilk Biscuits, Chocolate Covered Strawberry or Red Velvet Cheesecake Bites, Shrimp Scampi, Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Remoulade, and Low Country Boil.  I bound their final projects: a cookbook complied of recipes used during the 18-week course. It was a proud moment for both the students and I when I handed each of them their own personal creation.  Most will keep this special memento for years to come and will use the prized standardized recipes.  Former students from my 18-year culinary arts instructing career still have theirs and keep in touch.  I thank God several times a day for this peace and renewed spirit that makes life enjoyable again after a year and a half of sadness, anxiety, exhaustion, and overcoming regrets.

So, let me share some of the recipes prepared by my students the past two weeks.  I hope you will enjoy them as much as they did.

May God bless you and your family as He continues to bless ours.

 Chef Woods

Cheese Cake Bites

Yields 30-36

Tools and Utensils:

  • Gallon-sized plastic freezer bag or food processor with blade
  • Large metal spoon
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • ½ sized sheet pan
  • Waxed/parchment paper
  • Measuring spoons
  • Microwavable container
  • Fork

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb sandwich cookies (30 large cookies)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 8-12 oz. chocolate candy coating, (bark), melted
  • Garnishes (as needed):
  • Chopped nuts, sprinkles, melted white chocolate

For Chocolate Covered Red Velvet Cheesecake Bites: 

  • 20 oz. vanilla sandwich cookies
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 T cocoa powder
  • 1.5 t. butter flavoring
  • 2 t. red food coloring
  • 10 oz. chocolate candy coating, (bark), melted

For Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake Bites: 

  • 1 lb vanilla sandwich cookies
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 T. + 2 t. sugar free strawberry jello mix
  • 1 t. strawberry extract
  • 8 oz. chocolate candy coating, (bark), melted

Procedure:

  1. In a food processor or gallon freezer bag, crush sandwich cookies to make crumbs.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine cookie crumbs and cream cheese to form soft dough.
  3. Line a half-sized sheet pan with waxed/parchment paper.
  4. Portion dough into 30-36 pieces with a tablespoon.
  5. Roll each portion into balls.
  6. Place formed dough on the waxed paper lined pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until firm.
  7. In a double boiler, or microwave, melt chocolate candy coating.
  8. Dip chilled cheesecake bites in the melted chocolate and place back on waxed paper lined pan.
  9. Sprinkle with optional chopped nuts or sprinkles before the chocolate hardens, or drizzle with melted white chocolate.
  10. Place the finished cheesecake bites in mini muffin papers.
  11. Refrigerate finished cheesecake bites in a covered container until ready to serve.

Waffle Iron Brownies

Tools and Utensils:

  • Waffle Iron
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Small microwavable bowl
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Whisk

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ c. Flour
  • ¼ c. Cocoa
  • ¾ c. Sugar
  • ¼ t. Salt
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 T. Water
  • ½ c. Melted margarine
  •  1 t. Vanilla
  • Pan spray
  • Toppings:
    • Ice cream,
    • Chocolate or Caramel Syrup,
    • Powdered Sugar or Whipped Cream/topping,
    • Maraschino Cherries

Procedure:

  1. Preheat Waffle Iron to 350°
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, measure and combine flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, measure and combine eggs, water, melted margarine, and vanilla.
  4. Stir liquid ingredient mixture into the dry ingredient mixture, until smooth with a whisk.
  5. Lightly spray waffle iron with pan spray.
  6. Portion batter on the griddle, ¼- ½ c., depending on the size of your waffle iron.
  7. Bake the brownie batter for 1 minute or until firm enough to remove.
  8. Server warm with the suggested topping.

 

Meatloaf Freezer Meal

By Rachel Sircy

I don’t know about you, but for me, meatloaf is a comfort food. My grandmother made a meatloaf that was delicious the day of and that made the best meatloaf sandwiches the next day. So, meatloaf is pretty close to my heart. It’s also a great freezer meal.

I was raised to believe that the freezer should be considered part of your pantry. My mother has a freezer attached to her fridge, and she also has two stand-alone freezers and a deep freezer. Since my parents purchase a whole side of beef every year from some of our family friends who raise cattle (a side of beef is an entire half of a cow, BTW) they need a lot of space. My mom is also the queen of freezing stuff. If you tell my mom that you’re hungry, she’s got a dozen meals prepared and frozen somewhere in her house, so you’ll probably be told to go and get something out of the freezer and reheat it.  I utilize the tiny freezer that I have to store vegetables, fruits, gluten free bread crumbs, meat…you name it. I guess it’s in my genes.

Freezer meals are becoming increasingly popular these days. I haven’t yet braved the 40 meals in 4 hours challenge, but I do keep individual servings of soup in the fridge for last minute meals. Just pull them out and thaw in the microwave (it may take a while if the soup’s completely frozen, but much faster than making it from scratch). Soup is easy enough and very convenient if you don’t feel like cooking, or if you’ve forgotten to make something for lunch, but I wanted to try my hand at prepping a meal and keeping it in the freezer for when I’m ready to make it. Not only is meatloaf one of my favorite comfort foods, but it’s extremely easy to make any meatloaf recipe you have gluten free. Basically, the main ingredient that you need to substitute is the bread or cracker crumbs. Of course, if you use steak sauce, Worcestershire or ketchup, etc., you need to make sure it’s gluten free. Beware, I just read that many major brands of steak sauce are not strictly gluten free. Just be careful and always do some research if you’re not sure. Other than that, most of the ingredients used to make meatloaf are naturally gluten free: ground meat, eggs, onions, garlic, etc.

Now, because I don’t want to deal with a huge frozen chunk of meat which will take a long time to thaw, I decided to make mini-meatloaves. I thought that larger than a meatball and smaller than a baseball would be a good size. Each one would be roughly equivalent to a thick slice of a regular meatloaf. In order to figure out the freezing process I, of course, called my mom. She said to freeze the mini-meatloaves properly, they need to be placed on a cookie sheet and placed in the freezer to firm up. They don’t need to fully freeze on the cookie sheet, they just need to become solid enough so that they won’t break apart when you put them into a freezer bag for storage. She said that about an hour would do it. Here they are on the cookie sheet:

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They should make for an easy dinner when they thaw. And here’s the inside of my freezer:

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It’s tiny, but it works for me. I placed the cookie sheet on top of a tower of individually frozen soup containers. Here’s the process of freezing the soup:

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Really, if you haven’t tried freezing meals for later, you really should. It makes for a very easy (and cheap) pre-made meal. I’ll let everyone know how my meatloaves turn out in my next post!

Kitchen Essentials

By Rhonda Woods

Hello!  I just want to take a moment to thank the Lexington Medical Center team for the beautiful video they produced for my initial blog.  I was so pleased and heard so many wonderful comments from so many viewers!  My “Sweet Husband” would be so proud of his “Bride”!

My next blog is about Kitchen Essentials.  Here is a list of smallwares I find the most useful in my kitchens, both commercial and home. This list can also serve as a wish list, because Christmas is right around the corner.  Yeah, I’ve got you covered, foodies!  I made a large plastic tote box full of baking essentials for my daughter, one Christmas.  She still has it and has added to her collection as well.

Food Thermometer (digital or bi-metallic)
Strainers, large and small (large can double as a sifter)
Bowl scrapers (I can never have enough)
Whisks (same as above)
Digital Food Scale (@ $20.00, battery operated)
Sheet pans-aluminum/stainless steel (heavier gauge or weight does not warp and last longer)
Heavy Aluminum foil
Plastic Wrap
Parchment Paper & Waxed Paper
Disposable Decorating bags OR Gallon Freezer bags
Zester
Vegetable Peeler
Dough/Pastry Cutter
Rolling pin
Set of biscuit cutters
Portion scoops (1 oz., 2 oz. & 4 oz.-make quick work for portioning cookie dough and muffin batters)
Electric mixer (counter or hand held-I love my “Big Red” Kitchenaid)
A sharp Chef and paring knife
Dry measuring cups (2-3 sets)
Measuring spoons (2-3 sets)
Food processor
Cutting boards, plastic-not wood, large & small
Mixing bowls
Cupcake pans (2)
9″ x 13″ pans
8″ cake pans (3 or more)
Off-set spatulas
Aprons (I collect them, cookbooks and magnets from my travels)

Can you tell I’m a smallwares collector…you should see my kitchen drawers and cabinets…just saying. We call them “Tools of the Trade!”

IMG_2877Here’s a picture of my “Sweet Husband” and me taken in front of the old truck he had when we first met.  It has since been lowered from the 4-wheel drive lift and repainted to cover the light blue color, named “Old Blue”  We now refer to it as “Old Blue-Green”, and it still roams the back roads of Green Swamp with a new generation of riders and hunters. 39745152_272914836856988_2960821067972608000_n

It’s hard to believe it has been almost eight months, and it does not get any easier.  Celebrating my “Big 6-0” in a couple of weeks just won’t be the same without hearing him say, “Yeah, you don’t look bad for 60!”  😇

May God bless you and your family,

Chef Woods

Autumn Chicken Salad

This month, we are introducing our new bloggers not only with their posts, but with a video!

Meet Rhonda:

By Rhonda Woods

I am the Chef/Instructor for the Pelion High School Culinary Arts program.  This is my 18th year of teaching Level One and Level Two students in grades 10-12.

I began compiling recipes of my Chef Woods Facebook page when I accompanied my late “sweet husband” to his doctor appointments and chemo treatments.  He lost his short 18 month battle with Metatastic Melanoma Cancer.  I thank God for healing him and taking him home, but miss him greatly.

Cooking is and has been my stress relief.  I now get to teach others my passion for cooking…and especially baking.  So, let begin with a favorite of our faculty and staff, Autumn Chicken Salad!

Tips:

  1. Mise en place, a French term that means to “put in place”, or have all of your ingredients washed, prepped, measured or weighed and all tools. This helps prepare the recipe quickly…kinda like a food network show!
  2. Use a sharp knife for cutting. A dull knife is less safe because it takes more pressure to use than a sharp one.
  3. A food processor with a “pulse” button is your friend. Makes quick work on chopping and give you the control over how much chopping needed to be done rather than just using the “on” button.
  4. Chicken salad is highly perishable, also know as TCS food. Foods that require minimum time in the temperature range from 41 degrees F-70 degrees F. Six hours total without refrigeration, but the internal temp cannot exceed 70 degrees F.
  1. Chicken salad has a refrigerated shelf life of 7 days, counting the day it was made.

 

Ingredients

1 lb. cooked, diced white meat chicken

1 hard boiled egg

1/4 c. Onion (@1/4 of a small onion) cut into large chunks

2 ribs celery, washed and cut into large chunks

1/4 of a Granny Smith Apple, small diced

1/4 c. Dried cranberries, rehydrating is optional (just soak in some hot water to plump up, the drain)

1/4 c. Sliced almonds

1 t salt or lite salt

1/4 t. Ground or coarse black pepper

1/2 c. Light Duke’s mayonnaise

1/2 c. Light Daisy sour cream

Directions:

  1. In the food processor bowl with a blade attachment, pulse the chicken @ 6-8 times and remove to a non-reactive bowl.
  2. Pulse the onion and celery to the same consistency as the chicken and remove.
  3. Pulse the hard boiled egg 3-4 times and remove.
  4. Combine the chopped chicken, vegetable and egg mixture with the remaining ingredients.
  5. Adjust the consistency with additional mayonnaise and sour cream, and flavor with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  7. Serve with crackers, bread or on a bed of salad greens.

 

Back to Basics

By Rachel Sircy

I’ve written many articles about cooking at home, but I’m going to write another one. Home cooking is an important topic for anyone wanting to go organic or gluten free on a budget. Actually, it’s an especially important topic for celiacs these days. According to a recent study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Jack Syage and his research team found that adult celiacs who were following a gluten free diet and still experiencing symptoms of celiac disease, had been exposed to 150mg to 400mg of gluten per day. Only 10mg per day is safe for a person with celiac disease, but of course 0mg is preferable!
The thing is, gluten is hidden in so many things, it’s easy to forget or get sloppy with our eating habits. Unfortunately, any sloppiness in our diet means that we are doing damage to our bodies. Gluten is hidden in so many sauces, food additives (who wants food additives anyway?), and it comes with so many sneaky names : dextrin, maltodextrin, Brewer’s yeast, malt, malt flavoring, etc., that I’m sure that I accidentally get some contamination without even knowing it. The other issue is that not everything that is labeled gluten free really is gluten free. It’s not good enough for a celiac to purchase something that says, “contains no gluten” or “no gluten ingredients used.” The ingredients of a product may be gluten free, but it also matters how the product was processed, how it was shipped and how it has been handled in the store.
Most of the gluten hidden in our diet is going to come from processed foods. If you’re new to celiac disease, or if you are still experiencing symptoms, follow this advice that a registered dietician gave me years ago when I was first diagnosed: Make simple meals. What does this mean? It means if you don’t know what else to cook, make a crockpot roast with potatoes and carrots. You need a meat, a vegetable or two and some source of starch. You don’t need to worry about purchasing processed foods. Trust me, after 10 years of gluten free living, finding out which processed foods are safe to eat – even when shopping in a health food store – still makes my head spin. So, the best thing that you can do is avoid them. Buy plain raw meats and cook them yourself. Buy plain raw vegetables and cook them yourself. Potatoes, rice and beans all work well as starches and if you purchase the beans and rice plain and dried, not only are they gluten free, but they are super cheap. This simpler way of eating (meat, veg and a natural starch) will save you SO MUCH MONEY if you are a celiac. Gluten free noodles, cake mixes, cookies, etc. are insanely expensive anyway. If you’re still sick after going gluten free or if you need to be gluten free and you’re on a tight budget, simple meal planning is the way to go.
Of course, you might be saying, that cooking every single day is exhausting and too time consuming. Here’s the thing, if you want to cook like you’re going to be the next Food Network Star, then yes, it will take you quite a bit of time. I know, because I’ve made the mistake of trying to cook that way when I worked full time. Cooking was a burden to me, then, not a joy. It’s become more fun the more I’ve had to do it. But people, we live in a world full of crockpots and my co-worker has recently been raving about how much she loves her new Insta-pot. It’s so easy to throw meat and vegetables into a crockpot and let it do all the hard work for you. We also live in a world full of microwaves. If you enjoy cooking but only have time on weekends, then cook your meals and freeze them to be reheated later. This is actually a really economical way to plan meals. The freezer is your friend. This is my freezer:
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The individual containers in my fridge are full of soup that I made one day when I had the time. I let the soup cool slightly and then froze it in individual meal size containers. When I don’t know what to take to work for lunch, I’ve got these containers of soup that I can just grab and throw in my lunch bag. They reheat in about 3-6 minutes in the microwave (about the same time as a processed frozen meal). I also have freezer bags containing individual servings of cooked ground beef for tacos. My husband is the only one in our house who really likes it, so what we did on Saturday was to cook 2lbs of ground beef with a homemade taco seasoning and then he decided how much he would eat with a meal and he froze that amount (about 1 cup, I think) in each of these freezer bags.
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Actually, if you’re wondering what might be a great simple meal that isn’t roast and potatoes, tacos are great. Many brands of soft corn taco shells are gluten free. I do recommend that you choose a brand that has an ingredient list that is short and that you can completely read (try to avoid anything with huge, difficult to read words which are probably chemicals and which may contain gluten). Many hard corn shells are gluten free as well, but be careful, these are usually more processed and therefore contain the potential for contamination. Most of the other ingredients for home-made tacos are naturally gluten free: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese (natural cheese, not processed! Processed cheese is likely to contain gluten), sour cream. Also, many brands of refried beans are gluten free. I go for the fat free beans, which keeps the ingredients list simple – usually just beans, water and salt. Make sure that you can read and understand all of the ingredients on the salsa that you choose, some have preservatives which may not be gluten free.
Below is the recipe for some home-made taco seasoning that is gluten free. It may seem like a long list, but it’s well worth making. I think it tastes better than a lot of packaged taco seasoning, and this recipe makes 6 tablespoons which will last a while since you only use 2 tablespoons per pound of ground beef. I also use 2TBS to season my home-made chili.
Taco Seasoning
Ingredients:
2 TBS Onion Powder
2 tsp Garlic Powder
1 TBS Salt
1 TBS Chili Powder
1 ½ tsp Crushed Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1 ½ tsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp Dried Oregano Leaves
1 ½ tsp Cornstarch
1 tsp Sugar

Method:
Place all ingredients in a tightly sealed container and shake until well mixed.
Makes 6 TBS of seasoning. Use 2 TBS per 1Lb of ground beef for tacos. Use to taste to season chili.

Happy Eating.