Monday, February 28, 2011

Involtini at Caprese Restorante Italiano

I just got back from a brief 2-night trip to Ottawa. I was there for work, which it was such a quick visit. Sadly, I didn’t take in much of the sites as I got there in after 5pm on Thursday night and was immediately focused on what to have for dinner and what I would eat the next two days. So after getting settled in my hotel I went grocery shopping. Luckily for me, my suite had a kitchen in it. If I can, I don’t get one without, as it makes life way easier when travelling. I was also lucky that the little grocery store I went to had a gluten free isle, so I stocked up on breakfast, lunch and dinner. Having to adjust to a 3-hour time change, I had to force myself to bed early. Especially for the early start the next day.

Friday was spent with work related stuff. It was an excellent day, but probably very boring to you! It stretched into a networking event at a local pub afterwards. Then it was supposed to move on to a restaurant that had a gluten free menu for dinner, but plans changed and the dinner portion of the evening was moved to a pub that I saw no chance of either being accommodating or free of cross contamination (due to a close inspection of the menu online). So when everyone else moved on to dinner, I did too … just not to the same place.

I decided to try a restaurant a little out of the way, but that would guarantee I didn’t get bloated after eating it. I went to a quaint little restaurant called “Caprese Restorante Italiano”. It is Ottawa’s only 100 percent gluten free restaurant. In fact it’s the first 100 percent gluten free restaurant I’ve come across yet. Yes, there are bakeries galore and a yummy café in Qualicum, but a full on restaurant? That’s unheard of.  This restaurant was small but nicely decorated and it felt warm and inviting. It seemed like there were definitely a few regulars and some new (and soon to be regulars themselves) customers as well.

The menu is mostly pasta based, being an Italian restaurant, but still had a few other options. Being 100 percent gluten free means everything is made 100 percent by scratch as well. I noticed that there were deep fried and breaded items on the menu and made sure to order one of them. Where else can you get such a thing and not worry about getting sick? So I started with Zucchini fritters. I followed that up with something called Involtini. It’s spinach and mozzarella stuffed inside a chicken breast and topped in peppercorn sauce. I’ve been eating a lot of pasta and wanted to try something else. I did not regret my decision one bit. The meal was delicious, it came with a whole mini loaf of bread drizzled in balsamic vinegar, and that peppercorn sauce was to die for.  I wish I could tell you what dessert was like but I was too full to have any. Many of the other couples that night were also too full and ordered their desserts to go. As I was going to be on a flight back to BC the next morning the to go option wasn’t really there, but I could have had crème caramel, torte or cheesecake.

After my meal, the chef came out and talked to the customers. He was very nice and told me all about the specials I hadn’t ordered (seafood cannelloni made with fresh lobster, scallops, blue cod and one other magical seafood ingredient that I’ve forgotten and the carrot strawberry soup). He also told me of his past working for the 5 star Hilton Hotels and his transition to opening a gluten free restaurant. He is not gluten free himself, but saw a niche market that hadn’t been taken. From his conversation you can tell that he takes great pride in his food and described the difficult process of finding a sous chef that was willing to make food from scratch. His efforts into making fabulous tasty food do not go unnoticed by his regular customers.  I only wish I was close enough to become a regular myself.

Upon return to Parksville, I decided that I had to try and mimic my fantastic meal in honour of Caprese. So that is what I set about to do. I think I did a good job of making something tasty, but the sauce just wasn’t the same as at the restaurant. I’ll have to find out his trick, but this will do for now!


4 chicken breasts
4 slices of mozzarella cheese
1 bunch of fresh spinach
½ cup (lactose free) milk in small bowl
½ almond meal in small bowl
½ cup butter
¼ cup sweet rice flour
¼ cup quinoa flour
½ cup white wine
2 cups (lactose free) milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
generous helping of ground peppercorn to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray 9x13” pan with Pam and set aside. On a dedicated meat cutting board, pound chicken breasts flat with a meat tenderizer or with plastic wrap and a rolling pin.  Cover each half of the chicken with a slice of cheese and a handful of fresh spinach.  Fold the other side of the chicken on top. Hold together and dip in milk and then coat in almond meal. Transfer to baking pan. Pour just enough water in the pan to cover the entire bottom of the pan. This will help keep the chicken moist and any melted cheese from getting too stuck on the pan. Bake for 45 minutes.

While the chicken is baking you can prepare the sauce. Start with butter and melt in a medium sized saucepan until foamy. Then add all flour at once. Stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until well mixed. Add in whine and cook for 3-4 minutes on low-med.  Turn up the heat and add 2 cups of milk. Stir frequently. Once it starts to thicken, turn down the temperature and stir occasionally. Add in nutmeg and ground peppercorn.

Once the chicken is baked, plate it and coat in sauce. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Orange, White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies

In a past life, my boyfriend used to work at a grocery store bakery. He doesn’t have a lot of fond memories from working there and never has a lot of good things to say about the job, but he is always, always talking about the cookies they made there. His favorite cookie being an orange, white chocolate and cranberry cookie with macadamia nuts. Any time I make cookies, he brings it up and mentions that I should try make them gluten free.

As you are all aware last week was Valentines Day. For my gift to my boyfriend, I decided to make him his favorite cookies. It’s rather difficult sneaking around a kitchen baking cookies for someone, when they live in the same house as you. So I told him that I was making him cookies for Valentines Day. But I didn’t tell him what kind and I didn’t tell him that I was also making cookies to take to work. So I started by trying a new cookie recipe that I found on one of the blogs I read, The Food Lovers Primal Palate for Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies. That’s right you heard me bacon and chocolate chip. I’ve heard this combination come up a few times and actually tried to order a bacon chocolate bar from the states a year or two back to put in stockings but it was just too pricey to ship it my way. So I had never tried this sweet and salty combo punch until last week, when they posted their new recipe. I figured it would be the perfect cover … one I could pretend those were the cookies I was making for him and two the bacon smell would cover up any sweet yummy white chocolate cranberry smells afterwards.

So that is what I did. The bacon chocolate chip cookies turned out fabulously. I like any almond meal cookie recipe, as they are usually moist and easy to make. This recipe is no different.  If you want to try chocolate and bacon together, I recommend trying it out using this recipe. I brought out one cookie for my boyfriend to sample and he liked it. I took the rest to work and everyone was quite surprised at the combination and everyone there said that it was very good.

Once those cookies were done, I started in on the orange, white chocolate and cranberry cookies. I found a recipe on a Betty Crocker website that I based it on. I just had to switch out and add a few ingredients. To be honest, I actually forgot about the macadamia nuts and didn’t add them. I was informed right away that they were missing, and will add them in next time for sure. But really, these cookies taste amazing with or without the nuts and now I see why he wouldn’t stop talking about them. The orange adds a hint of freshness, the cranberry’s a hint of tart and the white chocolate is the rich sweetness. The perfect cookie. I loved them so much that I plan on making them again … only a monster batch that I can share with coworkers, neighbours and still leave plenty for us.

Orange, White Chocolate, Cranberry Cookies

¼ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
1 ½ cups Bob’s Redmill Gluten Free all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 cup frozen (unthawed) cranberries
½ cup Purdy’s white chocolate, chopped into chunks
½ cup macadamia nuts, chopped (optional)

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray or line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar and orange zest on medium speed of the electric mixer until well blended. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the sugar mixture and stir by hand until almost combined; add the cranberries and white chocolate and stir just until blended. Drop spoonfuls of dough about 1 inch apart on a cookie sheets. Bake 15 minutes, until light golden and set around the edges but still soft in the middle. Let set on cookie sheet 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Meatless Monday's and Veggie Nachos

In the New Year, I am trying to be healthier, just like everyone else. I tried to start before the New Year in order to stick with it and not be jumping on the health bandwagon in January just to jump right back off in February … like most of us do. Trust me, I’ve done this many times before. So last November I signed up to an all female gym. I enjoy working out at a gym where I don’t feel pressured to look amazing 100 per cent of the time or feel like I’m being started at (in a good way or bad way) the whole time I’m there. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t even happen, but in my head it does and I feel like there is less of this happening at a gym for women only.  It helped that my co-worker goes there as well as she (unbeknownst to her) is my guilt button. She knows when I go, so I can pretend that she cares and feel guilty when I make excuses not to go. So I go more often that way. If I had a full on gym partner, I would be very loyal and go far more often … however, I don’t know many people here (yet) so this is as close as it gets. Unfortunately for me, my co-worker travels a lot so I get to make excuses far more often than I should.

On one of the rare occasions that I didn’t make up a reason (like I have chores at home) and was actually exercising on the elliptical at the gym, I saw an episode of Oprah that inspired me. If you haven’t been to a gym lately, you wonder how I could be watching Operah while exercising, but it’s how they stave off your boredom these days. They place all of the cardio machines in front of TV’s. At my all women’s gym, our TV’s are often tuned into shows like Operah, the food network and HGTV … also known as girl TV. Heaven!

Any ways, this particular episode was about Meatless Mondays and veganism. As Celiac with several minor allergies/intolerances I feel that there is no way I am willing to give up meat, eggs and fish. However, I could go meatless for a day or two out of the week. In fact I used to eat more vegetarian meals then meat based meals before my boyfriend and I moved in together. I always feel guilty that a vegetarian meal may not be filling enough for him, as he is a landscaper and works hard all day and needs the energy. Plus if I could make enough, most night’s he’d gladly eat enough for 4 people.

Going meatless one day a week is a good step. It can broaden your tasting experiences, but also helps in a lot of other ways. It helps reduce your carbon footprint. Instead of using our fields to grow grains for cattle and other animals, we could use our fields to feed ourselves grains and vegetables. This makes are precious food go farther, as we are running out of good quality farming land.  It helps or can help raise awareness around animal welfare and safety issues without destroying the industry. Buying less meat may seem counterintuitive to helping farmers, but if you are in turn willing to pay more for meat and eggs that come from sources that are guaranteed to have been treated humanely then that would work in the farmers benefit. The best reason of all to go meatless on a Monday (or any day) is simply the fact that you can consume more vegetables and perhaps become a little healthier. So many of us go days, or even weeks without eating any substantial fruits and vegetables, that haven’t already been highly processed and lost all of their nutrients. So being forced to incorporate vegetables into our diets is a good thing … it helps you with those pesky vitamins and minerals that you are lacking and helps regulate your digestive system. Something it seems that a lot of us need help in these days.

So after watching this episode and revisiting many of these concepts I knew already, I decided to try it out. My boyfriend was going to have to live with it, like it or not. Also, since I had talked to him about it and he played devils advocate trying to pooh pooh the idea; I decided to just pick random days instead of Monday. That way he’ll never see it coming. This week I chose Sunday and I chose vegetarian nachos. I based my idea off of the best nacho’s I’ve ever eaten at a gluten free vegetarian restaurant in Banff and you know what? My boyfriend loved them and didn't go starving! The first time I made them, I added beef to them, but this time I left that part out and really neither one of us noticed.

Go ahead, give these nachos a try and while you’re at it, feel free to tell me what vegetarian meals you like to treat yourself to …

Veggie Nachos

1 bag of GF Corn Tortilla’s
1 can of bean medley (kidney beans, chickpeas and black beans)
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
1 small head of cauliflower, chopped
1 tomato, diced
1 red (and/or green) pepper
1 block of cheddar cheese, shredded
(Any other vegetables you may have on hand)
Sour Cream

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet in aluminum foil to make an easier clean up, then place corn tortilla chips in a single layer, followed by the beans and vegetables. Bake these in the oven for about 15-20 minutes (the beans can make the nacho’s soggy so this step helps prevent that and helps roast the vegetables). Remove from oven and top with a thick layer of shredded cheese. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes (middle rack) at the same temperature. Remove when all the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve right away with sour cream and salsa. Yum!