Easy Peasy Drop-Off Food

Let’s explore some easy peasy drop-off food for your gluten-free friends. It’s winter and I have 7 friends who are currently under the weather. Having a restaurant meal delivered to each of them would be quite expensive. Cooking a meal from scratch for each of them would be quite time-consuming. I’ve been looking for a happy medium.

I’ve settled on some simple combinations I can make quickly and drop off by the door. I’m keeping these gluten-free. By using non-dairy milk and cheese, many can easily be dairy-free as well. If you’re needing some similar options, here are a few ideas:

Potato soup (not dairy-free). Purchase already prepared mashed potatoes (not dried potato flakes). Place them in a large pot over low to medium heat. Thin with gluten-free chicken broth the desired thickness. Add a dash of garlic powder and fresh ground black pepper.

Make the soup even richer by stirring in some shredded cheese – cheddar, Monterrey Jack, asiago, parmesan, or a blend. If this makes the soup too thick, add more chicken broth. For extra flair, include some canned, fire-roasted corn and garnish with chives.

Carnitas enchiladas. Purchase prepared gluten-free slow-cooked pork carnitas, canned refried beans, cheese, soft corn tortillas, and gluten-free green enchilada sauce.

Place the pork in a large skillet. Add refried beans (about 1/2 can or until the balance looks right to you), cheese, and a few tablespoons of enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with garlic powder and cumin. Exact proportions can vary and this will still be delicious. Simmer for a few minutes while you heat the corn tortillas in the oven or in a skillet.

Fill each tortilla with mixture from skillet. Place open side down in a disposable baking pan sprayed with olive oil spray. Top with enchilada sauce and cheese. Bake at 350⁰ for 15-20 minutes or until cheese melts.

Because this starts with warm tortillas and fully cooked, warmed filling, there’s no need to bake for a long time. That means, I don’t worry about covering these with foil.

Chicken stew. Begin with 32 oz gluten-free chicken broth and a cup or two of water. Add a couple of shallots or half an onion and a clove or two of garlic that are peeled, but not sliced or chopped (you’ll remove them later). Sprinkle in some garlic powder and a few red pepper flakes. Simmer for a few minutes.

Add a drained can of diced potatoes, a drained can of black beans, and a drained can of corn (if desired). If more liquid is needed, add either chicken stock or water.

After the stew simmers for a few minutes, add some pulled rotisserie chicken. You may need to break the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Continue to simmer for a few minutes. Remove the shallots or onion and garlic. Taste. Add salt and black pepper if needed.

You can use only corn and potatoes. You can use black beans and corn, but substitute quick-cooking rice for the beans. There are many other options I haven’t mentioned that can be tailored to your friend’s tastes.

I like to put my deliveries in disposable, reusable containers that are microwave or oven safe so that my sick friend can reheat right in the container. I also don’t want them to have to worry about returning a dish.

Snack basket. When you’re sick, you may feel well enough to focus on necessities but leave it up to your friends to provide the frivolous.

If you know the kind of snacks your friend likes, put those in a basket or a cute bag along with a few magazines, a crossword or sudoku book, an adult coloring book, or a puzzle.

I include things like dried figs, cocoa dusted almonds, dried Bing cherries, candied or spiced pecans, gluten-free pretzels and hummus, corn or grain-free tortilla chips with individual size guacamole, a selection of cheese (look for samples), pepperoncini peppers, stuffed olives, summer sausage, gourmet chocolate bars, and unsweetened, flavored water.

The choices are truly endless!

Breakfast basket. These are easy to do and fill a gap that most people don’t think about.

Fill a basket or bag with an assortment of gluten-free bagels, donuts, banana bread, muffins, cinnamon rolls, rugelach, and English muffins. Add some gourmet coffee or tea and jam or jelly. Perhaps put in apples, bananas, oranges, and grapes.

Providing food to a sick friend is a kind gesture. Lessening the financial burden and time commitment for yourself is also a kind gesture. With easy peasy drop-off food, you can be kind to all involved.

Dairy-Free Thanksgiving

I’m preparing for my first dairy-free Thanksgiving. That means no panna cotta with sweet potato topping, no milk-based gravies or sauces, and nothing enhanced with cheese unless I use a non-dairy milk alternative.

I’m accustomed to substitutions. Creating gluten-free recipes has been great preparation. But this fall has not yielded much time for experimenting. Keeping the substitution requirements to a minimum for this first holiday will keep stress to a minimum. I can expand the dairy-free options at Christmas and throughout next year as I have time to refine recipes.

While there is a wide variety of plant-based milk and cheese, the characteristics vary widely. That sometimes necessitates adding an ingredient to compliment or mask the flavor of the milk. It sometimes means a dish will require less fat or more sweetener. And it often means adjusting the amount of liquid in the recipe.

Learn on the fly.

If you don’t have much time up front but can afford the luxury of multiple purchases, choose a selection of cow’s milk alternatives to have on hand when you begin cooking. You can sample the taste, richness, and viscosity of several choices side-by-side to determine which will work best. Or divide up the mashed potatoes and try two or three at the same time. Let your guests help you decide the best option to make your go-to.

It doesn’t have to be only milk or cheese.

I use a mixture of firm tofu, unsweetened coconut milk (brand matters), and vegan cheese (brand matters) for lasagna. The tofu adds extra protein and a texture similar to ricotta cheese. I season the tofu to add flavor. I sometimes use plant-based yogurt for mashed potatoes or for baking.

While I will substitute milk and cheese for my dishes, I will use regular butter. I don’t suffer any ill effects from it. Others may. It’s good to check before assuming.

It doesn’t have to be plant-based.

Some people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk are fine with goat or sheep milk. Goat’s milk can often be found in pints or quarts in health food stores. Cheese made with goat or sheep milk is often available. Be sure to read labels before assuming feta is made with sheep milk.

If the protein in cow’s milk causes you a problem, A2 milk may be the best solution. It’s cow’s milk with all the familiar taste and texture, but a different protein that prevents stomach discomfort in some people. If you have an anaphylactic allergy to milk, do not use this as a substitute.

Substitute differently.

If only one or two in a crowd of 10 or 12 are dairy intolerant, you may want to make sweet potato or pumpkin pie using your regular recipe and offer the intolerant two an alternative dessert. I can purchase tofu pumpkin donuts nearby. Katz® offers a pumpkin pie spice glazed donut. And there are tons of recipes for dairy-free (and DF/GF) pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cookies would be easy as well.

And dessert doesn’t have to be pumpkin. Most pecan pies are dairy-free. Cherry or apple pie are good options. If you choose packaged crusts, read the labels to make sure there are no unexpected ingredients.

Don’t forget the stuffing.

While it may be easy to remember not to add milk, it’s sometimes harder to remember that some ingredients could already contain milk. Bread or cornbread that form the base of stuffing must be dairy-free too. The chocolate you choose should be dairy-free. Be sure to review all packaged items prior to including them in your dish.

Enjoy what you can.

If you don’t do the cooking, enjoy the items that are safe and skip the rest. Keep your avoidance as low key as possible and be sure to compliment the cook on the food you are enjoying. It is not necessary to jeopardize your health in order to please someone else. People who truly care about you will not want you to be unhealthy.

Say no if you need to say no.

When family systems are too dysfunctional to allow you to comfortably take care of yourself, it may be best to spend time with friends or football on TV. There are worse things than being alone on a holiday.

No matter what your dietary restriction, with some planning and playing there’s delicious food to be had. Wishing you a peaceful holiday in which to enjoy it!

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.”

Can Dietary Changes Reduce Inflammation?

Can dietary changes reduce inflammation? I can’t help thinking about inflammation this morning. My left thumb is swollen and throbbing thanks to an ant that was eating the okra pod I reached in to harvest before I noticed it. (Yes, I have gloves and I know I should wear them.)

Inflammation is detrimental to health especially when it becomes chronic. What I’m experiencing at the moment is acute inflammation that should subside in a few days. But before I knew I should be gluten-free, I experienced chronic inflammation.

Research has shown chronic inflammation to be associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Not only is it a possible contributor to serious disease, chronic inflammation makes you feel bad.

For me, it developed slowly over a period of time. I knew I had inexplicable pain that kept me awake. More than likely, that was related to inflammation. It went away when I eliminated gluten from my diet. After a few weeks, I was acutely aware that I no longer felt “tight” in my skin. Once I realized how much lighter I felt, I never wanted to go backward.

But because my condition changed gradually over a period of years, I became desensitized to the overall changes in how I felt. I knew something was going on because I was weak and tired and I ached, but the acute symptom that kept me seeking answers was an itchy rash.

With chronic inflammation, your body is constantly responding as if it’s under attack. The immune system pumps out white blood cells and chemical messengers that are helpful for a time after an injury or illness like a virus, but if the process lingers, they become detrimental. Just typing that makes me feel tired. It seems obvious that constantly fighting itself would not result in optimum health.

Diet and exercise are key to managing chronic inflammation. For me, eliminating gluten was what it took to rid myself of chronic inflammation and eventually my itchy rash. Even now, after 17 years, it doesn’t take much accidental gluten ingestion to trigger another round of blistery itching. Maybe that’s a good thing. It certainly keeps me on the straight and narrow.

To reduce chronic inflammation, eliminating foods you recognize irritate your system is a good place to start. Anything that produces an allergic reaction, stomach discomfort, swelling, redness, or rash can go in the first round. Dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish may fall in this category.

Next up, consider limiting consumption of processed foods. The chemicals in soft drinks, deli meat, baked goods, and preformed meals may trigger an undesired response from your body.

Beyond that, it may be helpful to eliminate sugary, starchy foods like white bread, pancakes, doughnuts, and pasta. This will help prevent blood sugar spikes. Keeping the body even keel allows it to use available energy to repair itself.

You may want to increase other foods like cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, plums, red grapes, onions, turmeric, green tea, spinach, and Swiss chard. Kale is a great option if you like it. All of these foods are high in polyphenols which are antioxidants that reduce inflammation.

Exercise plays a part in preventing conditions associated with chronic inflammation and research has shown it can directly reduce inflammation as well. Of course, movement will be more pleasant as inflammation lessens. I am intensely reminded of this when I try to move my thumb.

A change in diet can result in reducing or even eliminating chronic inflammation. Sitting here with a reminder of how inflamed tissues feel, I am grateful that it only took eliminating certain foods to bring me relief. That makes the dietary changes worth it!

Delicious and Gluten-Free Chicken Tenders

Last week, I tried some delicious and gluten-free chicken tenders. While I prefer preparing fresh food, sometimes I’m a less-than-perfect planner. I get caught up in work and before I know it, I’m too hungry and just need something to eat. For those moments, I like to keep a few partially or fully prepared foods on hand.

Choosing those foods is fun because it gives me an opportunity to explore new or different gluten-free products that are on the market. Often, the search more satisfying than the consumption. Over the 17 years I’ve been gluten-free, there has been improvement in the selection and availability of convenience foods. But there’s still no guarantee those products will be palatable. I can’t help but open each new package with a bit of trepidation.

I will enthusiastically say, there is no need for hesitancy with Bell&Evans® Air Chilled Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Breast Tenders. They are the best frozen chicken tenders I’ve ever eaten!

There are many reasons for this. First, they are made from chicken – not chopped or separated chicken parts and fillers. Next, they’re flash fried to set the breading but remain uncooked until you cook them. Third, they’ve been marinated in a sea salt brine.

Additionally, the breading is a very thin coating that lets the moist, tender chicken be the star. It consists of rice flour, water, yellow corn flour, sea salt, xanthan gum, dried whole eggs, yeast, cane sugar, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder that has been set by flash frying in organic expeller pressed soybean oil.

Because the tenders have not been previously cooked, it is important that they reach a safe internal temperature. To that end, the tenders can be pan fried, air fried or oven baked. Once they are golden brown, I’ve served them alone as an entrée and atop a salad. They are large enough for a sandwich as well.

For small fingers, you can choose gluten free chicken nuggets rather than tenders. The nuggets are made from chicken breast meat without fillers and breaded with the same ingredients.

Bell&Evans products can be found at Whole Foods and Fresh Market in my area. To locate their products where you live, there’s a zip code search on the company’s website. Not all products will be gluten-free so be sure to read the descriptions carefully before purchasing.

My experience was so good, I’m planning to sample the Bell&Evans meatballs as well. If those are good, I’ll consider the chicken burgers.

It’s always great when food exceeds your expectations. These chicken tenders did that and raised the bar. Not only will I add them to my set of regular options, they’ll replace every chicken tender brand I’ve previously ordered.

I hope this week’s discoveries turn out as well for me and for you! Happy gluten-free exploring!

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.”