Tangy Thai Cucumber Relish

For the last 5 years we've lived in condos and apartments, so when we moved into a house this past year I was excited to finally have a yard where we can have a garden again. We went to the farmers market early in the season to buy herbs and vegetables to plant. One of the vegetables I was excited to grow was zucchini, I grew it a few years back and was rewarded with more zucchini than I could handle.

As the plants began to grow my anticipation also grew. Finally one day I saw a baby zucchini growing. A few days later it was ready to pick! I brought it in the house put it in on the cutting board and...wait a minute, what the... this is a cucumber! So instead of six zucchini plants I have six cucumber plants, they must have been mislabeled at the farmer's market. Don't get me wrong, I like cucumbers, but just not as much as I like the versatile zucchini. An when is the last time you cooked a cucumber?

So now I have 6 cucumber vines producing an average of 6-10 cucumbers a week, I needed recipes! I was thinking about making gazpacho, which would be great, but how much gazpacho could one family eat before revolting? Thankfully my friend Robin came through with a great recipe for Tangy Thai Cucumber Relish. This sweet and sour tasting relish is a great compliment for most Thai dishes. I served it with red curry chicken, the cool sweetness provided a great contrast for the hot spiciness of the curry dish. This recipe also makes a great cool side dish for just about any summer meal.


Tangy Thai Cucumber Relish

1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp. salt
2-4 (depending on the size ) cucumbers -about 1 lb.
3 Tbsp. thinly sliced shallots
1 carrot, sliced into thin rounds
2 tsp. thinly sliced fresh hot red or green chilies, seeds removed
3 tsp chopped Thai basil

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the sugar and salt dissolve, 3-4 minutes
Remove from heat and let the dressing cool to room temperature.

Peel cucumbers (optional)and cut them lengthwise into 4 long strips. Slice each strip crosswise into small triangles; you should have about 3 cups
Place in a bowl, toss with chopped shallots, carrots and chilies and pour the cooled dressing over the mixture
Cover and refrigerate, serve cold, best after 24 hours

Micro blogging?

Follow us on twitter
I haven't been posting to this blog as often as I would like lately. As a matter of fact I've taken pictures of some delicious food I've made but never gotten around to writing down the recipe!

I have to blame some of my absence here on micro blogging. What is micro blogging you ask? In short its Twitter.com (and similar tools). One reason that I think I've taken to this medium so well is that my brain seems to be wired for short, concise thoughts and descriptions. In school I was the one who wrote a 4 page essay when the assignment was for 5-10 pages. Typically most thoughts I write down fit neatly into the 140 characters allotted on Twitter, and I love the level of interaction you can have there.

I have several more posts and recipes planned for this blog, but in the meantime I'd like to invite you to connect with me on twitter: www.twitter.com/goodwithout

Whats for breakfast?

One issues those of us who follow gluten free diets have is what to eat for breakfast. If you think about it almost all traditional breakfasts are based on gluten ingredients. The obvious one that doesn't is eggs. Don't get me wrong, I like (maybe even love) eggs, but I can not eat them every single day, although I did try for a while! And who has time to cook them every morning? I sometimes eat gluten-free frozen waffles, but not every day. I love to cook gluten-free pancakes, but once again it's time consuming. Fruit? Yes, but it doesn't fill me up.

Lets face it, there isn't anything as quick and easy and satisfying for breakfast as cereal. A stroll down a typical cereal isle will reveal about 50 to 100 types of cereals. Until recently 2 or three of those may have been gluten free, depending on the store. Several stores had no gluten-free options. The problem with most gluten free cereals that are out there is that they are very expensive. A 12 ounce box could easily cost $6 or more. This is not to say that these aren't good values. Typically these cereals are made form high quality ingredients in dedicated gluten free facilities. Also they are produced in small runs, so the pricing is appropriate, but in this day and age I just can't afford to pay that much for breakfast.

So finally one of the big manufacturers with wide distribution has payed attention to the emerging gluten free market. General Mills simply changed one of the ingredients (containing barley) in Rice Chex and it became gluten free. Just like that a tasty, widly available and resonably priced (under $3 for 12.8 oz.) gluten free cereal was available!

Evidentially Rice Chex has been received so well that General Mills has announced that is introducing 5 new gluten free cereals. Corn Chex, Corn Chex, Honey Nut Chex, Strawberry Chex, Chocolate Chex, Cinnamon Chex are not currently gluten free but are in production.
According to Cecile M Davidson, General Mills Consumer Services, "All 5 products should be widely available across the U.S. by June 1, 2009." Make sure that the box says "Gluten Free" before you buy it.

Lets hope that other manufacturers will take notice and start producing more gluten free cereals. There are many products out there, Rice Crispys for example, that have barley as a inconsequential ingredient.

Preventing Cross-Contamination in Kitchens

By now, anyone who has celiac disease knows that gluten can be hard to avoid at times; not only is it a part of common wheat products, but its also prevalent in a lot of processed foods that you would otherwise think wouldn’t contain gluten. But the threat of cross-contamination is something that not as many people are aware of, especially the folks out there who don’t have celiac disease, making this a big issue when celiac and non-celiac people are using the same kitchen. As someone who lives with five people who eat "normal" gluten-containing food I am very aware of what it take to prevent gluten exposure. So I’d like to pass along a few simple ways that will hopefully keep everyone healthy and happy when there’s gluten in the kitchen.

You Can Never Keep Things Too Clean
Cleaning your kitchen early and often, especially countertops, utensils and other forms of dinnerware, is the best way of making sure that no crumbs or other glutinous food fragments are left lying around. It goes without saying the longer that excess crumbs build in your kitchen, the greater the risk of cross-contamination. Using products such as a crumb-catching cutting board can greatly reduce the risk of this occurring but the most fail proof method is the most basic one- cleaning frequently!

Gotta Keep ‘em Separated
The best way to ensure that no cross-contamination occurs during the cooking process is to use separate kitchen utensils for gluten and gluten-free foods. This is especially practical for some items, such as toasters, pans, and cutting boards, that frequently come into contact with any type of baked good, since this is the most obvious source of cross-contamination. Buying two of each of these items can be costlier, but it is the only way to make sure that all gluten-free dishes aren’t at risk of exposure.
It might also be a good idea to purchase separate containers for condiments such as butter, mayonnaise, jam, and peanut butter that are prone to contamination through bread crumbs.

Labeling and Separating
Someone with gluten intolerance will certainly be eating some foods that are different, and if you follow the last point, they will also be using or eating from different utensils and using different types of cookware. This makes labeling and separating very important, as you want to make sure that none of the gluten-free products are used accidentally. This is especially true if you happen to live with a child.

These tips should hopefully help in keeping a celiac household safe and well-fed. The best form of cross-contamination prevention is education. Keeping non-gluten intolerant housemates educated about celiac disease and how to live with people who have it is the best way to maintain a healthy kitchen


A Meal To Remember

I really don't like to complain about being on a gluten-free diet. There are things that I can't eat, but most of these things aren't very healthy, and I do my best to ignore them. A few weeks ago I had an experience that is worth sharing because it illustrates the type of frustrations people on a gluten-free diet face, and highlights the need for people on this diet to be knowledgeable about food and the importance of educating others about the gluten-free diet.

A few weeks ago I attended a dinner networking event at a highly regarded local hotel. I RSVP'd on line and was impressed when I saw a field labeled Special Dietary Requirements, and a field to type a brief description. So I wrote that I was on a gluten-free diet, no foods containing wheat, rye, barley and oats, nor any food that come into contact with them. I had never seen a special online form for dietary requirements before and thought it was a great way to easily communicate my special needs. Between this and the fact that this was a luxury hotel, whose sister hotel I had eaten at successfully several times, I was sufficiently assured that I was going to be able to have a good dinner.

After arriving at the event I registered and the hostess handed me a little table tent labeled "gluten-free" and told me to set it on the table next to my place setting. I was further assured that this hotel knew about special diets and had it all under control. I relaxed, had a glass of red wine and talked with the people around me. We were served salad and I submitted my normal request of "no croutons and oil and vinegar" no problem. The fresh bread was passed and I did my best (as always) to ignore it.

When the main course came out everyone was served a roasted leg and thigh quarter of chicken over stuffing, covered with gravy. This was served with a side of green beans. I waited in anticipation to see what I would be served. I thought perhaps they would serve me the same chicken over mashed potatoes with green beans. Then my plate came out and I was pleasantly surprised to see a great presentation of three large swiss chard leaves stuffed with something, but what? After seeing everyone enjoying the chicken I imagined some sort of pulled chicken or ground beef. I took my knife and fork and hungry cut in to the unknown.
Little kernels spilled out onto my plate, was this ground beef? Wait, it looks like... But it couldn't be... barley!? The leaves were entirely stuffed with what looked like barley, which by the way, is laden with gluten.

I walked over to the manager and said"I have the gluten-free meal and it looks like I was served barley. I can't eat barley." She apologized and went back to the kitchen to check. She came back to the table a few minutes later and apologized again and said that they were making up a plate for me.
In the meantime people were beginning to finish their plates and I was getting hungrier by the second. I couldn't get over the fact that they had served me barley. I imagined that somehow they confused me for a vegetarian. After five minutes a server came out with a replacement plate for me. At this point I was so hungry that I would have eaten just about anything they served me. But my excitement quickly waned when I saw what they had for me: a plate of sauteed mushrooms, green beans and spinach? I didn't want to make a scene, by now I had to explain to all of the people at my table about why I didn't have my dinner yet. So I ate the meal, feeling disappointed but trying not to dwell on it.

I met some good people and made some connections and after dinner coffee was served. I always enjoy a good cup of coffee so this put me in a better mood. Dessert was served. I watched as everyone was handed a near brick-sized piece of scrumptious piece of apple strudel. Then the server put one in front of me. I said "oh, I have the gluten-free meal." the server looked puzzled, and looked at the manager who was standing close by. I picked up the plate and brought it over to her and told her that I couldn't eat it. She said, "let me check whether it is gluten-free". I said "I'm looking at it and I'm telling you that it is most assuredly not gluten-free.", and put the plate in her hand. This was going from disappointing to down-right annoying.

Five minutes later, again as everyone finished their plates, I was given a cup of raspberry sorbet. The sorbet was rich and flavorful, but hard to compare to the mountainous piece of strudel that was in front of me minutes before. Normally I can deal with seeing delicious looking food that I can't eat, but there is something about holding a plate of that same delicious looking food in your hands and smelling it, that makes it much more difficult to bare.

After dinner I found the manager and pulled her aside. She apologized again for the dinner. I told her that because I eat gluten-free does not make me a vegetarian. I went on to tell her that I was served gluten twice tonight and if I didn't have sufficient knowledge of food I would have trusted in what I was served, eaten it and become ill. After all, how many people would recognize barley when they see it? And how many would question that their meal was gluten-free from such a prestigious hotel and after taking advance measures to make sure it was? I explained to her that it wasn't her fault, but that someone in the kitchen really needs to be educated as to what "gluten-free means, and how to accommodate the diet. Hopefully they did and the next time someone asks for a gluten-free meal they will give them a meal to remember, but for all the right reasons!