May 25, 2015

Stuffed Mushrooms Work For Any Party – Indoors or Out!

mshrm walkThe forecast says you may have to move the party indoors today, but you’re in luck ’cause stuffed mushrooms work for any party – indoors or out! I suppose I’ve been thinking about making mushrooms today because of the mushroom topiaries I walked through yesterday. Well, that and the fact that the evening weather forecast threatens more rain.
mushrooms
We’ve had so many storms and so much rain the past few weeks that I’ve spent much of my time changing my plans. You may have had the same experience. It looks like about half of the country may have to move the party indoors today. Should that leave you searching for party food that works well in any environment, try this stuffed mushroom recipe:

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
Serves 12-15

Cooking oil spray
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large fire roasted sweet red pepper, chopped
Pinch of salt
1 lb. hot or mild breakfast sausage
1/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/3 cup grated Mozzarella cheese
25-30 white button mushrooms with stems removed, cleaned
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
25-30 fresh sage leaves

Preheat oven to 425º. Spray 9 x 12 baking pan with cooking oil spray.

Sauté onion in olive oil for 4-5 minutes. Add the peppers and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until it is cooked throughout. Turn up heat and lightly brown meat. Turn heat to low. Remove mixture to a bowl lined with paper towels to drain. Deglaze skillet with sour cream. Place sausage mixture back in skillet. Add Parmesan, Romano, and Mozzarella. Stir until evenly distributed. Turn off heat.

Place mushrooms top side down in prepared baking pan. Spoon sausage mixture into each mushroom, top with shaved Parmesan and one sage leaf.

Bake at 425º for 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven and serve hot.

I recently took these to a party and managed to leave my baking dish behind, so today using a disposable baking pan seems like a better idea. I’ll also confess that I don’t always use the sage leaf on top. If I have some growing on the porch, I like to include that little extra but I’m not necessarily going to run to the store and spend a fortune to buy tiny packages of fresh herbs. I can get an additional pop of flavor from adding a tsp of tubed Italian herb paste, or I can just leave it out and still have delicious mushrooms. It’s a holiday, I say go for what’s easiest!

Hopefully, the weather will hold and you’ll have a chance to play outdoors. If not, binge watching your favorite series with your favorite veteran while eating stuffed mushrooms can prove satisfying as well.

Happy Memorial Day!

valley

/a>http://www.garvangardens.org/

Disposable bakeware:
http://www.hefty.com/products/disposable-cookware/

http://www.handi-foil.com/

Tubed herb paste:
http://www.gourmetgarden.com/en-us

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

May 17, 2015

Pharmaceuticals Are Drugs. Over-the-Counter Medicines are Drugs. Supplements Are Drugs. Period.

pretty pillsPharmaceuticals are drugs. Over-the-counter medicines are drugs. Supplements are drugs. Period. But sometimes we don’t really act that way.
supplements
We take supplements along with prescription drugs without ever checking to see if there can be a bad interaction between the two. We don’t research the company that manufactures our supplements to see if they’re reputable even though we know the supplements are not regulated by the FDA. We pop Tylenol after a late night of drinking with no consideration of the consequences to our liver. We tell our children not to use marijuana, heroin, meth, ecstasy, or bath salts, but encourage them to take Adderall, Dexedrine, Xanax, Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, Luvox, Celexa, Zoloft, Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Oxyfast, and Percocet without always exploring non-drug treatment options.

It’s like we have collectively lost our healthy respect for the power of these substances and their possible detrimental side effects or perhaps it’s overshadowed by our collective expectation of a quick resolution to all of our immediate problems. Whatever this attitude shift is, it’s affecting our health and our society. The CDC reports that since 1999, the amount of pain reported by Americans has stayed about the same, but the amount of prescription pain relievers prescribed and sold has more than quadrupled (1).

I have noticed a change in the way my doctors and dentists approach treatment and the use of medication. When I had all of my wisdom teeth out a few years ago and was visibly bruised down to the base of my neck, I was prescribed two days worth of codeine. More recently, I was prescribed a week’s worth of hydrocodone following the removal of a single root from one tooth in a 15 minute procedure. I filled the prescription on the way home assuming I’d be in severe pain when the deadening wore off. Interestingly, my pain was hardly noticeable and only required one day’s worth of Extra Strength Tylenol. My family physician now uses a medicate-and-see mode for diagnosis rather than the remove-all-medications-and-see-what-happens approach to diagnosis that I experienced at the Ochsner Clinic in 1989 when I had psittacosis.

I have a friend who calls her doctor for Vicodin whenever her life gets stressful, another who calls her gynecologist for Valium when she needs to take the edge off, and several who swear by their longstanding prescriptions for Xanax. All of them are well supplied and none of them are in therapy. None of them think this odd.
needle
This sort of matter-of-fact incorporation of highly addictive substances into our everyday lives without examination is leading to alarming trends. According to the CDC, 44 people per day die in the US from prescription drug overdose(2), and some users turn to heroin as a less expensive alternative. The number of chronic heroin users in the US in 2014 was reported by Forbes as being estimated at approximately 1.5 million.

While many of us have no experience with addiction, we all know that pharmaceuticals have side effects. Many times it takes years on the market and numerous injuries before a drug is deemed unsafe or prescriptions for it are limited. Perhaps it’s best not to treat drugs casually at all.

I’m not saying we should avoid doctors, their advice, or all medications or supplements. It just seems that now is a good time to get curious about everything we choose to ingest. It’s easier than ever to access information, so why not learn as much as we can about medication, supplements, and food so that we can make informed choices?

Where should the research begin? You can start with anything. Pharmaceuticals are drugs. Over-the-counter medicines are drugs. Supplements are drugs. All of these substances deserve research. Responsibility for our health and the quality of our lives falls appropriately on our shoulders.

When we fail to get informed, we relinquish some of the power we have over our own destiny. Hopefully, when we make that choice it is deliberate rather than by default. Otherwise, we will feel diminished by the process rather than empowered by our choice. My wish is for all of us to choose well and feel powerful.

pouch pills

1)http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/
2)http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html
3)http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2014/03/10/how-many-daily-heroin-users-are-there-in-the-u-s-somewhere-between-60000-and-1-million-maybe/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

May 12, 2015

Tales From the Road

Today I was going to give you a travel tip, but it’s turned into tales from the road. Perhaps it’s because I’m too road weary to focus. In the past month, I’ve driven more than 6000 miles and visited every time zone in the US. In fact, I’m still on the road due to storms along my route. The unintentional extension of my trip means I have few clean clothes left. In fact, I’ve decided to wear swimsuit bottoms instead of pants today.

Okay, okay. Don’t worry. These particular swim capris come from Coolibar and look like this:
swimsuit
See, they’re cute, comfortable, and provide plenty of coverage for a road trip.

Some of you may still be asking why I didn’t just wash my clothes? It’s a valid question given that many hotels now offer do-it-yourself guest laundry rooms. In fact, there’s one right down the hall in the Homewood Suites where I’m staying. I’ve also seen them in Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn & Suites, and Springhill Suites in various cities.

Not only that, there’s a Wal-Mart two blocks away that sells travel size liquid Tide for 97¢. I could use a portion of it to hand wash in the sink even if there were no laundry room here. But here’s the thing…I’m tired. One of my driving days this week covered 12 hours and two time zones. Losing two hours added to my fatigue.
Bowl & Chips
I suppose this is the point at which I could say it’s also been difficult to stick to a gluten-free regimen, what with all the planning and extra driving required to search out food I can eat. Fortunately, this hasn’t been the case. I’ve enjoyed some incredible food bookended on the east with a bowl from Crafted in Greensboro, North Carolina and on the west with a gyro plate from Greek House Café in Simi Valley, California. Both were delicious! In between I had a scrumptious California burger at the tiny Coyote Bluff in Amarillo and amazing Brussels sprouts at Limones in Asheville, North Carolina.
gyro
Last night I wanted to eat in my room and nod off early. A 15 minute stop at the ubiquitous Wal-Mart provided this dinner of microwaveable GF chicken strips, carrots & broccoli with Ranch dip, fresh blueberries, and tortilla chips with guacamole.
dinner
I cooked the whole bag of chicken strips and threw the extras in my ice chest for lunch on the road tomorrow. I also grabbed some prepackaged combos of fruit, nuts, cheese, and vegetables from the produce section. These make great road snacks.
snack packs
Even in a rural Oklahoma gas station near where Troy Aikman attended high school, I found portable protein packs filled with different combinations of meat, cheese, and nuts. With all the healthy snack options now packaged in convenient trays showing up here there and everywhere, I can’t really say the trip back required any planning at all – well, no food availability planning anyway.
protein pack
Storm avoidance planning, on the other hand, has been critical. After I got caught in the snow with sandals on my feet, I started to pay attention to the weather radar and made sure to stay well behind the storms. I hear that back home, my office building has flooded. And so I’ll return healthy, happy, and tired to a project needing immediate attention. And while that may not be my first choice of activities upon returning home, I’ll have the energy to tackle the problem. That’s one of the benefits of sticking to my regimen even when I’m on the road.

http://www.coolibar.com/

http://homewoodsuites3.hilton.com/en/index.html

http://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/index.html

http://craftedtheartofthetaco.com/

http://www.greekhousecafe.com/

http://coyotebluffcafe.com/

http://www.limonesrestaurant.com/

http://www.proteinproteinprotein.com/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

May 4, 2015

Should My Whole Household be Gluten-Free, Wheat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free, Nut-Free, Shellfish-Free, Soy-Free? Ten Important Considerations

pantry mixI’ve been visiting my son in LA and the question keeps coming up, “Should my whole household be gluten-free?” I think it first arose with the smell of chocolate chip cookies coming from the kitchen. They were for a client and contained the traditional wheat prevalent ingredients.

Of course the aroma piqued our desire for gluten-free chocolate chip cookies as well. It seemed like a good idea to bake both while the oven was hot, but the kitchen hadn’t been fully cleaned from prepping the traditional dough. Was it a good idea to mix up the gluten-free cookies yet?

This question led to a discussion of the labels on the pimento cheese containers and the two containers of yogurt (one used for traditional baking) in the fridge and the stash of teeny tiny jellies in the cupboard which then led to a debate on the possible merits of eliminating all gluten from the household.
contaminated
My family has members who are celiac, gluten-intolerant, allergic to shrimp, and able to eat absolutely anything. If your family is like mine, you’re familiar with the balancing act required to keep the affected parties away from harm while keeping the rest of the family satisfied.

Of course there’s no one size fits all solution for determining what works best, but here are a few things to keep in mind when discussing the options:

1)How severe is the allergy or intolerance?

The last time I ate shrimp, my throat swelled shut and I sounded like I had whooping cough when I tried to breathe. Households with peanut allergies may have experienced the horrible helpless feeling that comes along with severe anaphylaxis. Reactions of this level or that are obviously progressively worse with each exposure mean a food allergen will be eliminated from my house.

With gluten, the response to a tiny amount can vary widely. While I would not cook a gluten-free grilled cheese in the same skillet you just used for your regular sandwich without washing it in between, I have no hesitation about using the same skillet once it’s washed. I’ve never had a problem from a burger cooked on a grill where they heat regular buns. There have been times I’ve inadvertently eaten fries that were fried in the same oil as onion rings without suffering any ill effects. But that’s me and those were unique events. Your experience may be very different.

The severity of response to a particular allergen may require some patient observation. Once my gut had healed on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I returned to a gluten-free regimen only to discover that I can’t tolerate very much corn. It seems that some of my previously assumed gluten reactions were actually corn related.

2)How is an allergen or irritant stored and who has access to it?

My household has a different rule for medications. Since I have no allergic children or mentally impaired relatives living with me, I don’t mind placing a bottle of aspirin or cough syrup with codeine in the medicine cabinet even though ingesting a single aspirin will have me covered in hives in less than 30 minutes. I simply avoid opening the bottles and consuming the meds.

3)How many people in the household are detrimentally affected by the substance in question?

In the beginning of my gluten-free days, I was one-third of the household and the only one who had to follow the regimen. In other words, I was outnumbered. While I was careful to clean pots, pans, utensils, and surfaces in between, I continued to cook regular pasta, pizza, and dinner rolls for the rest of the family. (A gluten molecule is too large to pass through the skin, so any risk from cleaning up surfaces was easily avoided.) Another option would have been to designate certain pots and pans gluten-free. And, of course there were many more prohibitive options, but it seemed extreme to me to restrict 2/3 of the household as long as I was not suffering any detrimental effects.
GFMix
4)What are the ages and temperaments of the parties at risk?

Young children cannot be expected to read labels on packages or to consistently make good choices. Having a system in place that minimizes their risk and helps them learn at the same time is ideal. Children who tend to follow the rules may respond well to having only gluten-free options in the refrigerator door and a “special” shelf in the pantry from which they are allowed to make their own choices.

Children who are more prone to challenge or mischief may mean a need to eliminate all gluten from the household to minimize your risk as well as theirs. There was some rethinking of my system when my kids decided celiac was a “mental disorder”, meaning it was all in my head, and set out to develop secret tests to see if I would get sick. Funny how all that changed when one of them had to go gluten-free. Ahhhhh, irony…and paybacks! If you have enough patience, these things often work themselves out.

5)What is the cooking environment like?
Is a ceiling fan always running in the kitchen? Is there often a breeze blowing through the open windows or door when you bake? Strong air currents in the kitchen will carry flour particles a long way potentially causing a gluten cross contact problem. You may be careful to clean up the countertop where you’re working, but flour can ride the airwaves across the room to land on gluten-free muffins cooling on another counter.

I always have a cutting board sitting on the peninsula – usually the same one. Are you in the habit of using a single cutting board for everything? Is that cutting board made of a permeable material? How often does it get a thorough cleaning and will you remember to clean it each time it comes in contact with an allergen? All of these things must be considered when determining whether your kitchen environment is conducive to safely using allergens.

6)How many different people in the household cook?

If cooking is a shared duty, it will be necessary to assess the knowledge level and commitment to cooperation of each cook before making a plan.

7)What is your style of cooking or serving food?

Ben and I cook using primarily fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, and individual baking ingredients. James and my sister use more premixed seasoning packets, boxed meal extenders, and batter mixes. You may purchase mostly precooked, frozen or packaged foods. Some folks put the food in serving bowls, others fill plates in the kitchen, and still others put pots on the table and use a single spoon to dish out the food. You may remove jelly from the jar to your plate with a spoon that never touches your biscuit. We’re in the habit of sticking a knife in the jelly jar to drive my mom crazy. If you do that and smear a piece of regular toast with jelly then stick the knife back in the jelly jar, you’re trailing pieces of toast into the container and contaminating it with gluten.

Your family’s style of cooking and eating will present a unique set of considerations: Are you able to vary the pancake recipe if your child is allergic to eggs and milk? Do you stick your measuring cup in the wheat flour container and then in the sugar when you’re baking? If so, are you willing to break that habit or do you prefer to keep two different containers of sugar so that your gluten-free cupcakes don’t contain contaminated sugar? Are you in the habit of reading labels when pulling something out of the pantry or refrigerator to make sure it doesn’t contain any problem ingredient or do you prefer to be able to use anything in the house without having to think about it?

8)How much space do you have and how organized is your family?

Some families have elaborate storage systems and ample pantry space in which to easily categorize. In my kitchen with its narrow, deep pantry, reused plastic containers are stacked on plastic pull-out organizer drawers from The Container Store. It’s not unusual to see trail of white rice flour on the top of the sorghum flour container. Adding a container of wheat flour to this collection would be ill advised even if it were clearly labeled. In a different environment, a labeling system would be sufficient for preventing cross contact.
cans
9)How much waste will be created by having a dual system?

The discussions that prompted this post have often centered on how much food is getting thrown away. If everything were gluten-free in my son’s house, there would be less waste. Of course this means that to get a consensus for such an arrangement, there must be a high standard for the taste and texture of the gluten-free food so that it is pleasing to everyone. Households like this are one of the reasons Cooking2Thrive is committed to developing gluten-free recipes that go beyond providing an acceptable substitute in order to please the discerning gluten-eating palate.

10)Is it more costly to remove all allergens and irritants from the household or to purchase some of both?

Even with the finances, there’s no specific formula for deciding which will cost more. The answer will vary depending on how many packaged foods you buy, how many different allergies or sensitivities you must accommodate, and whether or not you end up regularly throwing away food. The more data you collect and the more accurate your observations, the greater your ability to determine this outcome.

There’s rarely an easy answer to the question, “Should my whole household be gluten-free, wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, shellfish-free, soy-free?”, but exploring the options will make you more aware of your habits and the concerns of other family members. That is valuable information upon which to build. My family has found that developing an acceptable plan can reduce stress in the household and make it easier to support each other’s health.

And that would be a good thing for most families…problem is, we LIKE to argue the relative merits of pretty much anything. Of course, you can help us out. Start a whole new discussion by telling us how things work in your household.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”