Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fresh Salsa

I just love fresh salsa.  My husband prefers the canned stuff you buy in stores that has been cooked until it's soft and that flavors are all melded together into a jar of mush.  My favorite salsa is bursting with flavor and has texture.  I first realized what salsa could taste like when I bought a container from Sam's Club in their refrigerated section by the meats.  I had never had salsa like that before.  So good.  Then I went to Moe's and had their green salsa.  Never knew salsa could be green.  I loved the flavors, the texture, the smell.  I just knew I had to try to make my own.  Now, Nathan can't have this because raw peppers give him hives, and Chuck just plain hates the texture of peppers and onions.  They can have the canned stuff.  More power to them.  All the more of the good stuff for the rest of us!  What I have learned is that salsa is forgiving, and different people have different tastes.  So, taste this as you go along.  Some of my children thought it wasn't spicy enough.  One thought it was too spicy.  I thought it was just right.  You will have to go by your own gut with this and make it how you like it.  Also, if you want your salsa to be all green, omit the tomatoes and use all tomatillos.  If you want it red, do the opposite.  I might try to make a double batch and freeze it in ice cube trays for individual serving sizes.  I'll update this post to let you know how it works out if I do.

Fresh Salsa
4 tomatillos
4 medium tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
2 jalapenos
2 small onions
1/2 bell pepper
juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)
fresh cilantro to taste

Allergy-Free Eating on a Budget: Tip 5

Tip 5 is portion control.  Here in America, we don't usually have a good idea of what a portion of food should look like.  Our portions have grown bigger and bigger, and now we are eating twice as much as we should be.  I know that my family has a hard time with this.  When we went gluten free, I had to crack down a bit more on this, especially when it comes to expensive prepackaged gluten free things, like cereal.  My kids would literally fill their bowls, leaving little room for milk (or rice milk/nut milk).  I showed them that a serving size is supposed to be 3/4 cup.  That was an eye opener for them. 

When I buy the Mesa Sunrise flakes, I add a bunch of seeds, nuts, dried fruit, coconut flakes, etc. to it to try to make it more filling and nutritious.  I do limit them to 1/2 cup (which they scoop themselves, heaping the measuring cup until it's about 3/4 cup) because we just cannot afford to let them eat too much of it.  Then I let them have 1-2 pieces of fresh fruit to go along with it (usually choosing between bananas, apples, oranges, and pineapple slices).  A lot of times we also make chocolate banana smoothies or fruit smoothies.

My kids used to feel the need to eat at least 2 sandwiches at lunch time, along with pretzels or chips, juice, and whatever else they could get their hands on.  Once we went gluten free, we stopped eating sandwiches.  I just can't afford to waste spend an exorbitant amount of money on a heavy/ hard white brick some companies label as bread.  None of us even like it.  In fact, one time we tried some and everyone either had to choke down their sandwich or throw it out.  It was so disgusting.  Now, I realize that making my own bread is much cheaper and palatable, but I just don't have time to do that on a regular basis.  I do it for an occasional treat, though I may do it more often in those periods of time when we are less busy than we are now. 

A typical lunch in our house might be one Food for Life rice tortilla, made into a quesadilla or wrap.  For quesadillas we heat up one side in a frying pan sprayed with olive oil or lightly wiped with a little Spectrum shortening.  When that side is warmed up, we flip it over, add our filling to a half-circle portion of it, fold over the other half, and allow it to heat up some more.  I flip it over again, just to let that side heat up a little, too, and voila!  It only takes a couple of minutes, and we can really be creative with our fillings.  For wraps, we just heat both sides of the open tortilla until warm and pliable.  Then we put it on a plate, add our fillings, and fold or roll it into a wrap.  Besides the wrap, we have another piece of fruit or some fresh veggies (maybe some carrot sticks and/or celery sticks) or salad.  Sometimes we just have brown rice and beans and/or vegetables for lunch.  Sometimes we'll have a couple of rice cakes with peanut butter and slices of banana.  Our two boys are really starting to eat a lot because they are in their early teens and need more calories.  They do eat more helpings than the rest of us because they seem to be more hungry.  Usually I will let them have two quesadillas plus fruit or veggies.

My sister has perfected a recipe for GF buns that she uses in place of sliced bread.  I may try that sometime.  Her family loves them.  She was making bread every day in her bread machine until she started making the buns.  If I had a bread machine I might bake bread more often, but I don't have one.

Snacks in between meals might be hard boiled eggs with a little sea salt, fresh fruit, fresh veggies, 1/2 c. homemade snack mix, a modest handful of GF organic tortilla chips with some homemade salsa, etc.  Snacks should be small, not the size of a real meal.  Again, my boys get more because they need more right now.

Fruits, vegetables, beans, and rice are all filling and can be reasonably priced if you get what is in season.  We try to eat more of those things and then have a small amount of the more expensive gluten free foods, instead of the other way around.

We usually have naturally gluten free meals for dinner, such as chili, beans and rice, various soups, meats with potatoes and vegetables, salads with chopped meat and lots of other toppings, etc.  Sometimes we will have gluten free pasta dishes or homemade pizza.

Something I've noticed is that when we drink as much water as we're supposed to in a day, we don't seem to feel the need to eat as much.  I think our bodies misinterpret thirst for hunger sometimes.  I try to encourage my children to drink more water because if I don't keep on them about it, they'll drink 1-2 glasses of water a day.  Since we don't drink much juice, milk, soda, or other processed drinks, 1-2 glasses of fluids per day is far below the amount that they need in order for their bodies to function properly.  I know that I have the same problem myself.  I'm much hungrier when I'm not drinking enough.

If you are confused about a portion size, just do a google search on portion sizes, or you can get a good visual idea right here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gluten Free Mexican Seasoning (and Taco Seasoning)

I am on a bulk cooking kick right now, so making large amounts of seasoning mixes fits right in with my theme.  My family loves Mexican food.  We eat a ton of beans, rice, tacos, chili, etc.  This seasoning mix works well for any and all Mexican food that I make.  We add it to our rice and beans and just about anything you can imagine.  This will make a bulk batch. 

GF Mexican Seasoning Mix
3/4 c. chili powder
1 c. paprika
1/2 c. cumin
1/4 c. sea salt
1/2 c. onion powder
1/2 c. + 2 Tbs. garlic powder

When I make tacos, I brown and drain the meat (say 2 pounds).  Then I whisk 1-2 Tbs. sweet rice flour in a cup of hot water.  I add that to the meat, then add 4-5 Tbs. (depends on how flavorful I want it) of seasoning and mix well.  Simmer until thickened.  If you like it more saucy, you can add a little more water and sweet rice flour.

Allergy-Free Eating on a Budget: Tip 4 and Chili con Carne

Tip 4 is to cook in bulk and freeze meals.  This cuts down on time and money.  If I'm gonna make a batch of chili, it doesn't take any extra time to brown 3 pounds of ground beef than it does to brown 1 1/2 pounds.  It may take a couple of extra minutes to open a few extra cans of beans and tomato sauce (if I'm using canned), but it would save me a ton of time when we want chili again.  It's worth it to me to wash an extra pan or two in order to save all the extra time later.  Isn't it nice to be able to just take out some chili from the freezer, thaw, and reheat?  All you would need to add is some shredded cheddar, sour cream, and possibly some sliced jalapeno peppers to garnish your bowl of chili.  My husband likes to scoop up his chili with tortilla chips instead of a spoon.  Great!  That saves washing a spoon.  :-)

I have been trying to used dry beans instead of canned because of all the additives in the non-organic cans of beans, not to mention the leeching of chemicals from the actual can into the beans.  However, I will break down and use cans when in a pinch (like if I have to make chili for a dish to pass dinner that I forgot about or something).  So, I have two recipes I'll share here, one with dry beans and one with canned.  Both have a similar taste, so you won't lose in flavor either way.  I will say that cooking with dry beans is an adjustment that I am still working on, but I think I have it right for this chili recipe.  Try it and see.  Let me know how it turns out for you.

Chili con Carne (canned beans)
2 (40.5 oz.) cans kidney beans
1 (29 oz.) can black beans
2 (16 oz.) cans pinto beans
3 lbs. ground beef
1 1/2 lbs. frozen corn
4 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
1 1/4c. + 1 Tbs. Mexican Seasoning
2 Tbs. basil
2 t. oregano
1/8 c. raw Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 c. lime juice (about 1 fresh lime)
1/2 c. Franks red hot

Brown the ground beef.  Drain and rinse the beans.  Dump all the ingredients into a large stock pot and thoroughly mix everything together.  Split the mixture up between 2-6qt. crock pots* and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.  My husband and oldest son do not like onions or peppers, so I don't add chopped onions or peppers to this recipe.  Feel free to add them if you like.  I will sometimes add some chopped garlic.  If you do add some chopped onions or garlic, keep in mind that there is already onion and garlic powder in the Mexican Seasoning.  If I want it spicier, I will add some chopped jalapeno peppers.

*If your stock pot is large enough and heavy bottomed enough, you can cook your chili on medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.  However, I like to cook it in my crock pot, so I don't have to keep a close eye on it.

Chili con Carne (dry beans recipe)
2 c. dry kidney beans
1 c. dry black turtle beans
1 c. dry pinto beans
3 Tbs. pure olive oil
bay leaves, if desired, added to pots of cooking beans
2-3 c. bean cooking water
2-3 lbs. ground beef, browned with 1/4 c. Mexican Seasoning
1 1/2 lbs. frozen corn
3-4 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
1 c. Mexican Seasoning
2 Tbs. basil
2 t. oregano
1/8 c. ACV
1/4 c. lime juice
1/2 c. Franks Red Hot

Sort and rinse your dried beans. Soak them in clean water with a splash of raw Apple Cider Vinegar overnight. Remember to keep your types of beans separated since they will vary in cooking times from each other. You should soak them in 3 parts water to 1 part beans.

In the morning, drain and rinse your beans, keeping them separated from each other.  (I made the mistake of mixing mine all up and cooking them together the first time I made this.  The black beans were done long before the kidney beans and were practically mushy by the time the kidney beanse were soft enough to make the chili.)  The pinto beans and kidney beans have a similar cooking time, so you can try cooking them together, if you would like.  I prefer to keep them separated until I am ready to make my chili. 

Cook your beans in pots with enough water to cover your beans by about 4" and bay leaf, if desired.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the pots to help prevent foaming and boil overs.  You want to make sure you cook the beans at a simmer, not a boil.  If you cook them over too high of heat, the skins will burst and slip off the beans.  Black beans should take between 1 and 1 1/2 hours to cook.  Pinto beans should take between 1 1/2 and 2 hours, and Kidney beans should take between 1 1/2 and 2 hours, though sometimes they may take a little longer.  If you are using beans that are a little old, they may take a little longer as well.  When your beans are tender, they are ready to use. 

Something to keep in mind is that tomato sauce will make your beans take longer to soften, so you want to wait until they are soft before making your chili.  You also want to add water to your chili, so the beans can soak it up and finish cooking by the time your chili is done.

When your beans are done, reserve 2 -4 c. cooking liquid to add to the chili as needed, then drain the beans.  Discard the bay leaves.  Mix the beans, at least 3 cans crushed tomatoes, ground beef, corn, seasonings, herbs, vinegar, lime juice, at least 2 c. bean water, and hot sauce in a large stock pot.  Once the ingredients are mixed well, you may decide that you want to add up to a 4th can of crushed tomatoes and/or more bean water.  That's fine.  Everyone has different tastes.  I used 2 c. bean water and 3 cans tomatoes.  If you want your chili more liquidy, you can add more, but you may need to adjust the seasonings accordingly.  If you used closer to 3 lbs. of ground beef, you may need a little more water and tomatoes than I did.  You should wait until your chili has been cooking a little while before tasting to see if you need to add more seasoning.  If you want a spicier chili, feel free to add some chopped jalapeno peppers.  I cook my chili in crock pots on high for around 4 hours.

Chili freezes well.  It would be great to freeze in single portions to take to work for lunch on cold winter days.  I have 6 people in my family, and I can get 3 good family-sized meals out of this (they're big eaters).  You may get more meals out of it if you add a salad and have less people in your family.  I find that my family will eat less if I portion out the food that I am freezing ahead of time.  They don't realize there is more food, so they won't feel the need for 3rds or 4ths!