Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Night Foodie: Gluten Free Sweet Potato Gnocchi

As I shared last week, insomnia is a fabulous excuse for trying new cooking projects, and this week was no different.  Between three and four hours of sleep provided me with a lot of extra time for studying, writing, Netflix watching, and, of course, cooking!  On deck this week: sweet potato gnocchi!  For those you who don't know, gnocchi is a pasta typically made with flour, cheese, eggs, and some form of potato. 

My first experience with this odd little pasta was at Olive Garden.  They have this amazing chicken and gnocchi soup that I could more or less make myself sick on.  A former boss would take me our team there on occasion and I would eat all the gnocchi from our soups while he would eat all the chicken…I felt it was a fair trade.  Last year I discovered that HEB sold both regular and sweet potato gnocchi.  This made me learn how to brown butter, a technique my friend Lauren taught me, and though you can eat it with any sauce you like, I've found this is my favorite way. 

Two weeks ago, I found gluten free gnocchi hiding at the bottom of the shelf and thus renewed my desire to attempt to make my own.  Home made is always better, right?  My biggest fear was shaping the pasta itself, but I decided early on to give myself a little leeway.  You start by baking three sweet potatoes (I use these because of the vitamin C).  Mine ended up taking about ten minutes per side in the microwave.

Cooking confession: I may or may not have had an Arrested Development moment where I covered the spuds in foil…did I mention I haven't gotten a lot of sleep lately?

After they cooled (ideally…I was a bit impatient and have the burnt fingers to prove it), you scoop the innards into a bowl and stir until smooth...

Add one egg

1/4 cup of parmesan cheese (I didn't have this much so I just used the rest of what I did have…)

1 tsp salt

Brown rice flour.  Thanks Michelle!  The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups, but I probably ended up using at least 2 1/2 cups total.  The idea is for the dough not to be too sticky.

Knead…my favorite part of baking/cooking.  

Divide into four parts (I ended up splitting these fourths because it would have been way to much for one person) and roll out.

Attempt to cut into similarly sized pieces...

Boil until they float and then drain.
 Once I drained the gnocchi, I browned the butter and sautéed with garlic and basil.  I definitely burned my hands again at this phase...

 You can top with parmesan cheese if you so desire, but as I had none left I just stuck with the salt and basil.

The good: sautéing them in brown butter added some savory to a dish made sweet by the type of potato I chose.  I also really liked the basil and garlic and kind of felt like it was cheating even though everything was fairly healthy.

The bad: I sort of failed on the shape, but with practice I'm sure I can get better.  It also suffered from a lack of parmesan - I should have checked my recipe before going to the store.

The ugly:  Again the shape!  But I still have a bunch of dough left in the fridge so more than enough left to practice.  I will definitely be trying this recipe again.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Night Foodie: Baby Shower!

What do you get when you cross an insomniac with a gluten intolerant foodie who has a baby shower at the office in the morning? Late night baking whilst watching waaaaay to much TV. This week I meant to make gluten free sweet potato gnocchi but in light of said baby shower (and the aforementioned insomnia) the plan changed. I had to scour the internet because most recipes had odd ingredients that no normal person has just sitting around in their pantry (what the heck is xanthan gum?) but I finally found a somewhat simple recipe (apparently it's a polysaccharide secreted by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris,[2]used as a food additive and rheology modifier,[3] commonly used as a food thickening agent…what kind of rubbish foodie am I?).  From there it was relatively simple…sorry I don't have many pictures, it was getting late…

  • 2 cups of gluten free flour (thanks Michelle!)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup of baking cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar
Mix dry ingredients first and then add the wet.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes (mine needed 25) and then dust with powdered sugar.

The good: absolutely delicious flavor and not dry like every other cupcake I've ever made in my entire life.

The bad: I didn't have any frosting…but that's not on the recipe.

The different(?):  it was much thicker than normal cupcakes but I kind of liked that aspect.  It was more bread like and not quite as fluffy.  

I took it into work and was pleasantly reminded that the wife of our shop manager (who is the one the baby shower was for) is also gluten intolerant.  If I hadn't brought them she wouldn't have gotten a cupcake at all…ok, it's the small victories.  I would definitely use this recipe again.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Two Masters

I am a multitasker.  My ability to do about eight different things at once means that I can handle with some amount of sanity the multiple requests, phone calls, and visitors that come with being both a receptionist and the Human Resources Admin for my company.  Even on a chill day I find myself answering e-mails, searching flights and clinics, sitting on hold with said clinics, juggling meetings in the conference rooms, and directing phone calls and attempting to do it with a smile (yeah, sometimes I'm an epic failure at that one).  Everyone needs something at the same time, and it is always urgent (no really, it has to be done right this second, drop everything you’re doing and make my  task priority, the fate of the universe depends on it! :P). 

Most of the time I manage to keep my head above water, but recently we moved locations to join with two other offices and, as I suspected, things got crazy.  The phones ring constantly, people need things mailed, flights booked, food ordered, copies made, kitchen stocked, supplies ordered, messages sent (no one has voice mail set up yet), new hires from all over the country processed and there are moments in my day where I truly wonder if I’m about to let the thin strings of sanity slip through my fingers or if they will plain just snap.  Nothing has shown me just how lazy I am or how little I trust the Lord to get me through stress than this job has.  Nor has anything shown me just how prideful I am. 

Last week one of my managers came to me for a mail out when the phone rang.  Being primary I am supposed to answer right away and when I did I discovered the call was for me.  I tried dealing with it as quickly as possible, asking a few of my own questions because that office can be hard to get ahold of, but when I hung up the manager told me I had been rude and should have told the caller that I would call them back.  Stunned, stressed, fed up, all I could do was stare.  For the next hour or so I worked on the project, fighting tears, praying, and wondering if working at Starbucks would really be so bad (free burned coffee, maybe?).  I was just trying to do my job…I’m so stressed…I feel like I’m drowning…

Eventually, the Lord humbled me and gave me the grace to repent and ask forgiveness from my manager.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t trying to be rude or act as if the project was not important, what did matter was that this manager had been hurt.  No matter how much wanted to be the victim, God has called me to “regard others as more important than [myself]” (Philippians 2:3).  He reminded me that His purpose is to redeem the world, and I can play a part in this by loving those who He made in His image.

My biggest stumbling block is who I choose to serve as a master.  Just as I struggle to be both the receptionist and the Human Resources Admin well, attempting to serve both God and myself is a path to destruction.  The sin of the garden remains imbedded in me, that desire to dictate right and wrong, the desire to essentially be god.  These two masters are mutually exclusive; I cannot serve both.  As Christ said in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” 

I think this might be one of the reasons why Paul speaks of us being “crucified with Christ” in Galatians2:20.  Before the Lord can kick us off the throne of our hearts we must die; it’s the only way we will ever give up our illegitimate claim to control.  So my prayer is that I will stop trying to serve two masters that I will stop trying to usurp my King and bow to His rule.

Do you find yourself struggling for control?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Night Foodie: Shrimp Scampi with Zucchini Pasta

This week was one of those weeks; a no good, very bad week.  Work felt like drowning most days (pretty sure at some point of each day I was holding back tears), I felt guilty for feeling tired because I get to leave aforementioned work at the end of the day (and how could I possibly be tired, I don't have kids), I felt lonely, rejected (stupid eharmony), unworthy, and really, just sort of like a failure.  All that to say, I am very thankful it's Friday and, thanks to the generosity of my sweet parents, I have a spa day tomorrow.

On the more positive side of things (ever struggle to be transparent, then feel like you're being too negative, then try to be positive but wind up feeling fake?  I swear I can't be the only one who struggles with this…) I did have a fairly successful recipe this week and am actually sharing it on a Friday night! Round of applause please…maybe?  No?  Ok.  This week I tried shrimp scampi with zucchini pasta.  In an attempt to avoid gluten and carbs at dinner (I ate brown rice almost every morning this week) I favored this recipe which uses zucchini as the pasta.  I need a veggie slicer, but a potato peeler worked just fine for me.  You start with four zucchini:
Peel off the skin, then shred into strips…next time I might try using my cheese grater for a different shape of "noodle"

Saute 1 head of garlic in a 1/4 cup of butter or ghee

Naked zucchini!
Add zucchini "noodles" and 1 lb of raw shrimp…I messed up and used cocktail shrimp…not bad but fresh would have been better.

Fresh parmesan cheese on top and voila!


The good: the taste was excellent and in spite of the butter, because zucchini and shrimp are low in calories this is a pretty healthy dish.  Plus it's sort of a way to sneak veggies into a meal.

The bad: I should have used raw shrimp.  The taste might have been better.

The ugly: my kitchen smelled very strongly of shrimp for the next twenty four hours.  I did not want to heat it up for lunch the next day, mainly because the smell put me off.  Again, this might have been due to the sort of shrimp I used, or it may just be that it wasn't quite good enough to make the left over roster.  I might try it again, but I'm not so sure.

Do you have a favorite way to "hide" veggies?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Friday Night Foodie: Another Saturday Addition

This week on Friday Night Foodie, I decided to play it super easy.  I want to challenge myself with difficult dishes, but some weeks, like last week with the pizza crust in a tub, I just kind of get lazy.  Originally I planned to try butternut squash lasagna, but then rethought the whole tomato thing…not a great food choice for someone who deals with acid reflux.  I'm trying to take steps to avoid foods that aggravate it…but it's not always easy (coffee…do not ask me to give up my coffee!).  Still, I decided a tomato based dish was not the wisest decision, and switched gears to Greek chicken.

This is just about the easiest recipe ever.  Zero challenge.  Unless of course you find handling raw chicken challenging…which I know some do.  The great thing about this recipe for me was that unlike last week's recipe, this one left me with almost four days of left overs and I discovered that it reheats really well.  One of my problems with trying not to go out for lunch at work is that I will bring lunch and then decide I'm not in the mood for it.  Whether it doesn't really reheat well, isn't quite good enough to resist trekking to I-10 for Jason's or Chili's, or because I just feel like I need to get out of the office, the quality of my left overs is the deciding factor within my lunch decision making paradigm.  This recipe won out two days in a row, so I'm calling it a success.  Here's how I made it:

You start with 1 cup of plain yogurt.

I thought for sure this was a typo.  Shouldn't I use Greek yogurt for, you know, Greek chicken?  I almost bought it, but decided to trust the recipe.

Four cloves of garlic - I <3 garlic="" my="" press.="" td="">
 My senior year of college my roommate and I used to cook most Monday nights and it almost always involved garlic.  I learned a few important things that year…one of which is that I'm a terrible garlic mincer.
Half a lemon with its zest.

1/2 a TBS of dried oregano, 1/2 tsp of cracked pepper (I didn't measure this part)

The recipe calls for a 1/4 a bunch of parsley but I didn't have any so I skipped it.  Next time I'll be sure to add it because I think it would be a nice addition to the texture.

Place chicken pieces in a bag to marinate.
 I used chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs so that I could cut them in half and make the left overs last longer.

Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes - really mine only took about 40 minutes.

And I forgot to use aluminum foil.  Boo.
The chicken was very moist and absolutely delicious.  I failed in restraint and ate a whole breast even though I planned to eat just a half.  I paired it with green beans and plantain chips (yes, I may have an addiction to the latter) and a glass of Wild Horse Merlot.  Editor's note from last week, it's not from Texas but rather California.  Ooops!  As I said, it heated up very well the next day and was tasty enough to keep me from breaking down and going out to eat.  I will definitely be making it again!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

"Sinner" - Identity Problems and Accountability

I am a liar.  Whether it’s to make my life less uncomfortable, to spare someone’s feelings, or to make others like me more, I bend and twist the truth.  Pinocchio’s got nothing on me.

When my wireless network stops functioning I have a panic attack, launching into what I consider a logical diatribe about poor service and the company wasting my money.  I will waste hours watching certain TV shows and get frustrated if a phone call interrupts my progress.  I get headaches if I don’t drink coffee at least once a day.  I am an addict.

I am lazy.  Most of the time I label it “unsure of myself” but in reality, that's just sugar coating.  I will do the bare minimum to get by instead of doing my absolute best. 

I am mediocre.  Tied into the laziness, I will not put in the time it takes to become the best at something, whether it’s playing my guitar, writing, or work. 

I have a problem with identity.  And I’m not the only one.  In spite of constantly encouraging us to avoid labeling others our entire culture has taken the things we struggle with, the things we enjoy, the things we are passionate about, the things we are tempted by and have used them to label themselves and others.  For some reason they (really, I should stop using the term “they” and shift to “we” because I’m no innocent) are unable to separate desire from identity and this throws a huge wrench into our perception of ourselves and others and therefore complicates our already complicated relationships.

This leads to a whole slew of problems.  For me, one of the biggest is discouragement.  I know the inner workings of my mind, the lies that slip out, the laziness that slows my feet, and I berate myself.  Why can’t I have self-control?  Why can’t I stop making these mistakes?  How can I demand honesty and hard work from others when I can’t provide the same things?  How can God put up with me?

Another problem is that that we are not able to hold one another accountable for our failures.  I’m not talking about self-righteously bullying someone for making a mistake; I’m talking about humbly and lovingly confronting our friends and family with wrong actions (in Christianese that would be “sins”).  When we link our actions or passions or desires irrevocably to our identity, being confronted can no longer be a loving action, but instead is labeled as self-righteous bullying and judgement.  This confusion robs us of being able to encourage each other to strive for holiness, a command that comes straight from scripture (Hebrews 10:23-25). 

There is one solution and one solution alone for this problem and that’s to get our identity straight.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  Sin is deeply ingrained into our nature; in fact, it killed us in the garden, robbing us of our relationship with the source of life, our Creator.  But out of His great love for us (John 3:16) and devotion to His own holiness and justice (2 Corinthians 5:21) He chose to save us.  By judging sin in Christ and then raising Him from the dead, the Lord declared us sons rather than sinners (Romans 8:17).  This is our new identity, Sons, Saints, and while sin remains part of us (Romans 7) it no longer defines us, can no longer be our identity.  My prayer is that I will move this knowledge from my head to my heart, that I will stop calling myself “liar” and “lazy” and “addict” and instead remind myself that I am a “Son”.  This is the only way I will ever be able to defeat sin, the only way I will ever be sanctified.  It will always be a struggle, but as I’ve said before that makes me long for heaven, to be in the presence of my Father.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Friday Night Foodie: Gluten Free Pizza

Thanks to my good friend Sharon (again) I have, well, had, two tubs of Pillsbury gluten free pizza crust and two tubs of gluten free pie crust. 

 I haven't tried the later, but tonight will be the second time I use the pizza crust and I think it went much better this time around.  The first time I made the mistake of using a pan that was way too big and the edges burned…badly.  So this time around, I used a simple pie dish and it went much better.

Tomatos, I always end up with tomatoes on my pizza, even though I don't really like sauce.

Goat cheese makes absolutely everything better.

The pie dish worked much better than the giant cookie sheet.  I pre-baked the crust on 400 degrees for 12 minutes.  Then, I covered it with olive oil...

…basil and oregano...

...the goat cheese...

…and the tomatoes...

400 degrees for 10 minutes
I was actually very impressed with the crust.  It is a little more tough than regular pizza dough, but it was still good and is not likely to mess up my stomach.  As per usual I ended up pulling off the tomatoes and eating them by themselves…they were really good, which surprised me because I'm not very good at picking out tomatoes apparently (always, always mealy…yes, that is a word…apparently some in my boot camp find it an odd one).  It was a great way to end two rough days at work (not to mention the Wild Horse, a really great Texas wine).  If you have a gluten intolerance or Celiac's I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Stinkin' New Years

So, New Years can be awesome: the idea of a fresh start, setting goals, hopes of a new phase of life…but New Years can also be a HUGE, ENORMOUS let down.  For the single, part of the let down is the death of that tingling little hope of a Midnight kiss to ring in the new year, for the mother it could be the mixed joy of a night with little ones and a children hang over the next morning, for the empty-nester it could be simply leaving youth behind…Not to mention the fact that most resolutions last at most a month.  The latter leaves the failed resolver with guilt and the accomplished one very self-pleased and likely obnoxious.

My particular New Years Eve was redeemed only by seeing an old friend and enjoying time with a few new ones.  I went to a party for the first time ever (aside from a house party) and found it somewhat wanting.  Maybe if I'd known more people it would have been better, but the one resolution it did leave me with was that next year I'm going to have my own party with games, good food, close friends, and champagne.  I spent my fist day in 2014 as I often do a normal Saturday; working out, taking a walk (or maybe three), watching too much TV, and rather longing for a bit of company.

I find resolutions somewhat dangerous, for the reasons mentioned above, but I'm also convicted by 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."  However, rather than attempting to make a list of resolutions and risk either failure or self-righteousness, I prefer to set for myself a list of prayers, asking my Shepherd to lead me and the Holy Spirit to enable me to do His will.  

So without further adieu, here is a short of list of what I am asking the Lord to help me with this year:

  1. A joyful attitude that is above and beyond my situation (James 1:2-4)
  2. Patience, especially at work and in traffic (Ephesians 4:2)
  3. Love (which maybe I should have mentioned first) for everyone…there is a distinct lack of love in my heart, as is evidence by my impatience and unkindness (1 Corinthians 13:13)
  4. Direction and sober judgment - a bit more selfish I suppose, but I am praying for direction guided by wisdom (Psalm 51:6)  
  5. Purity in thought (2 Corinthians 10:5)
There are more, of course, but these are that which I have had on my mind for a while.  Are you making a list for the new year?