February 25, 2011

Turkey Tetrazzini


I grew up in a home with a great love of food. But my parents approached food and cooking with completely different attitudes.

In our house, my Mom stayed home to look after my sister and me, while my Dad worked full-time. So Mom cooked all the weeknight dinners, and Dad cooked on the weekends, including all the big family meals.

Mom often made casseroles (this was the 80s after all) and one-dish dinners. I found out much later that she made a point to cook one vegetarian supper every week. One of her favourite cookbook authors was Jane Brody, the ultimate 80s health guru, whose books include The Good Food Book - Living the High Carbohydrate Way (can you believe how much things have changed??).

Mom made sure we were eating healthful foods. We accompanied her on trips to the health food store where she ladled natural peanut butter into plastic containers. I remember snacks of GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) and ants on a log, and there were never chips or pop in our cupboards. I barely knew what Joe Louis and Passion Flakies were, besides seeing the occasional glimpse in my friends' lunches. But I never felt like I was missing out. She baked treats a lot, and we always had delicious homemade cakes on our birthdays.

My Dad's meals were nearly always the protein-starch-vegetable formula, though he was also a big salad guy. He loved meat, and he loved seafood even more. His food was simple but always delicious. He loved to barbeque, often year round, and in the summer there was always fresh shellfish like lobster and clams.

My Dad's cooking was all about pleasure. His primary concern was not health, but taste. He fried his fish in bacon fat because it tasted damn good. He liked mashed potatoes with lots of butter and milk, grilled onions and mushrooms, steamed swiss chard with a side of mayonnaise (which as a child I thought looked absolutely disgusting). I never really talked to him about it, but I think he tried to bring out the real tastes of foods. My Dad died more than six years ago, and I really wish we could have had more conversations about eating and cooking.

I loved the meals both my parents made, and I realize that I've incorporated bits and pieces of both their styles into the way I cook today. I'm definitely interested in cooking for health, and in the benefits of vegetarianism. When I plan our daily meals I am conscious of making sure we have enough vegetables and fibre. I'm not a big casserole person, but even when I'm cooking with meat I gravitate towards quick, one-dish meals.

But I think my real love of cooking comes directly from my Dad. My Mom loves and appreciate food, but I know cooking isn't always her favourite thing to do (maybe because she was the one churning out reliable weeknight meals for years!). I love experimenting with new flavours, and I don't mind spending a long time in the kitchen to make a fabulous meal.

Mom always had a stable of meals in rotation on our dining room table. It's a smart idea - I'm sure I'll be the same way when I have kids. Since we're still in our freewheeling childless days, J and I often try a new recipe every night of the week. But I would love to eventually have about 25 recipes that I know and love, that we can make quickly and easily for weeknight suppers.

Lately I have been fondly remembering these weeknight meals from my childhood. I think it's because Mom made our favourite things over and over, imprinting their delicious flavours on my memory. Creamy baked macaroni and cheese, Italian fish casserole with noodles and tomatoes, shepherd's pie with a crispy cheese topping ... I think we all have these childhood food memories. The food might have been simple, plain or maybe even mediocre, but it's the memories that make it special. I remember the casserole dishes she always used for certain foods, and taking the leftovers for lunch in little plastic thermoses that kept it warm until noon.

I think my Mom's food actually tasted good, though. I don't think I've elevated it in my memory to undeserved status. Which is why I want to start recreating some of those meals in my own kitchen. The first one was Turkey Tetrazzini, an Italian-esque supper she made many times, often with leftover turkey or chicken. It's an easy meal that comes together very quickly if you're using leftovers, and you can adapt it in any number of ways. We used delicious rice pasta we brought back from Italy and leftover turkey from our belated holiday meal with J's parents back in January. I know these photos don’t make it look like the most appetizing dish, but I promise it tastes good!

I was curious where the name Tetrazzini came from. It sounds vaguely like a kind of noodle, but the casserole is made with spaghetti. It turns out this is a completely American dish, invented either in San Francisco or New York and named after an Italian opera star named Luisa Tetrazzini. Oh well. It doesn't have to be authentic to be delicious!

Turkey Tetrazzini

Adapted from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book

I was inspired by the wikipedia article, which says it's traditional to use almonds in this dish. My mother never did, but they added a nice flavour and texture element. You could also add leftover cooked vegetables such as broccoli, peas, or green beans.

½ pound spaghetti
½ pound mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
I Tb. butter or margarine
2 Tb. Flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 cups milk, cow's or unsweetened soy
2 tsp. soy sauce
½ cup shredded Swiss or Cheddar cheese (optional)  
1 green pepper, seeded & diced
4 or 5 sliced scallions
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 cups cooked turkey (about ½ pound), cut into small cubes
¼ cup grated Parmesan

Cook the spaghetti in salted, boiling water until al dente and drain well.

In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the mushrooms in the butter, stirring them often, until they are just tender.

Stir in the flour, salt and pepper, coating the mushrooms. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Add the soy sauce, and simmer the sauce, stirring it, until it has thickened somewhat.

Add the Swiss or Cheddar, green pepper, and scallions to the sauce, and mix the ingredients well. Stir in the almonds, turkey and spaghetti, combining well. Pour the mixture into a greased 2-quart shallow casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with the Parmesan.

Bake the casserole, uncovered, in a preheated 350º oven for about 20 minutes or until it is heated through. Raise the heat to 450 and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese on top is browned.

February 22, 2011

Gluten-free dining: Viphalay

A few weeks ago, I wrote about trying to save money on our grocery bill. Of course, belt-tightening also means eating out a lot less. But restaurants have also been more difficult because of our restricted diets, especially mine. I guess you could say it's a blessing that eating in restaurants is harder when we also can't afford it as often.


Sometimes, we splurge at places we love, and one of them is Viphalay.


Viphalay (pronounced Veep-a-lay) is the best Thai restaurant we've tried in Edmonton. Of course, there are many we haven’t been to, but it is very hard to find fault with this place, so we haven’t had to visit all the others. The food is fantastic, the atmosphere cozy, the service down to earth. We like Viphalay so much we've brought all of our family here when they visit: first my Mom and grandmother last year, more recently J's parents when they visited. Everyone loves it.


The best part? I loved this restaurant before I knew I had celiac disease, and now I can still eat there. The staff is extremely flexible in the kitchen, able to adapt most dishes to make them gluten-free with no change in taste that I can detect. It is an amazing feeling to know I can happily and safely eat at one of my favourite restaurants with no fear of feeling sick.

Our love of Viphalay was confirmed again after eating there with J's brother and his wife. Last year, they spent a few months in Southeast Asia, including travels in Thailand and Laos. Viphalay brought them back in a big way. They said the food and the beer was just as good as what they ate there, and that even the music playing in the restaurant reminded them of their trip. 

The menu at Viphalay is extensive, with soups, salads, noodle dishes, curries and stir-fries. We've tried many dishes and enjoyed them all, but we keep coming back to our favourites: salad rolls, pad thai, drunken noodles, and curries.

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The salad rolls not only taste delicious, they are miniature works of art. The thin rice paper reveals the curve of a pink shrimp and a delicate green basil leaf. Inside, there is also thinly sliced tofu, bean sprouts and julienned carrots. The best part might be the dipping sauce - a thick, sweet, peanut satay sauce that J has said on more than one occasion he could happily swim in. (The second dipping sauce, a clear sweet sauce with chopped peanuts, is good too, but doesn’t really compare to the thicker sauce.) The plate, and many others, comes garnished with a beautiful dark-red or orange flower, skillfully carved out of a beet or carrot.

Another great appetizer is the chicken satay, partly because it's served with the same intoxicating sauce. The strips of chicken skewers are also delicately flavoured with lemongrass. For the gluten-tolerant, the shrimp in red wine are apparently fantastic too, and the restaurant's most popular appetizer.

The Pad Thai is incredible: silky, fragrant, with perfectly-cooked shrimp and juicy tofu, crunchy bean sprouts and other vegetables.

I used to order the green curry, but after my diagnosis I learned only the Penang and the Massamum versions are gluten-free, so now the Penang (seen in the first photo above) is my go-to. Both of them feature thinly sliced beef or chicken in flavourful sauces that I could happily slurp up every day of the week.  The green curry is quite spicy, the Penang sweeter with less of a bite, but both are equally good. We usually order sweet, light coconut rice to mop up the rich sauce.


We also love the drunken noodles, though I can't eat them anymore since the noodles are made of wheat. These thin, curly noodles are mixed with vegetables and meat or shrimp in a spicy sauce. The orange cashew chicken in another winner. Simple but delicious, with chunks of juicy chicken and crunchy cashews in an subtle, orange-flavoured sauce. We've also tried the coconut soup, with chicken, onion slices and fresh tomato in a thin, sweet and sour coconut broth. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite as good as the other dishes I enjoy, so I probably won't order it again.

They also offer a nice array of drinks, including Laos and Thai beer. We've enjoyed their refreshing pureed tropical juices, and the little teacups they serve with tea are works of art.

If you leave any room for dessert, the banana envelopes are excellent. Again, I had the pleasure of eating these before my diagnosis, and the memory is sweet. The little deep-fried pastries are thin and crispy, stuffed with warm, soft banana, drizzled with maple syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar. A tray of them is perfect to share as a sweet ending to the meal.


The food at Viphalay hits the spot every time - I've never had a bad meal there or even noticed any small inconsistencies. The balance in the flavours is perfect, with notes of sweetness, heat, sourness and salt.

But another reason I love eating there is because of the friendly service. Viphalay is a family restaurant, with owner Vipha Mounma cooking in the kitchen and her daughter Susan, the manager, taking care of the dining room. On busier nights we've also had a young man serve us, who I believe is one of Vipha's sons-in-law. Often young children in the family sit at a table near the bar, but the room never becomes noisy and obnoxious. The decor is also simple and classy, with glass-topped tables covered with patterned red tablecloths and a pretty Buddha statue near the bar.   

Now that I'm looking again at the menu online, there are so many other dishes I would love to try. But to be honest, I’m not sure when that will happen. We've found what we love, and that makes it hard to venture outside our favourites. I guess it means we'll have to keep going back to Viphalay again and again.

Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant
10724 95 st. Edmonton

February 1, 2011

Gluten-free Pancakes


I've always loved pancakes. My Mom used to make them on the weekend when I was growing up. My Dad was the eggs and bacon guy, but Mom always made the pancakes. She was pretty health-conscious, and she often used a Jane Brody recipe that included whole-wheat flour, cornmeal and wheat germ. I have to admit they turned me into a pancake snob. I loved their heartiness and their crunch, and as a result I've never been
 able to appreciate the fluffy white Bisquick version.


Since discovering I have celiac disease, I've been reading a blog from Calgary called the Celiac Teen. Lauren has a great blog full of excellent recipes, most of which she creates herself. It's all the more impressive considering she's still in high school. I found the bones of this recipe on her website, but the beauty of these pancakes is their immense flexibility.


The first few times I made them, I used the flours in Lauren's version, but as I ran out of certain kinds of flour I started replacing them with others. Sometimes the batter was thicker, and sometimes it was thinner, but each time they tasted fantastic. Then one weekend morning, our wireless network wasn't working, but I wanted pancakes. I hadn't printed off the recipe, so I tried to make them anyway, working from memory. They still came out perfectly. When I checked later, I realized I had used quite a bit less flour overall than she calls for, but somehow these are magic pancakes. They are impossible to screw up!


I much prefer using weights to cup measurements when I bake. It makes the process so much easier and cleaner - you just pile it all into a bowl without getting all the cups and spoons dirty. It's especially handy with gluten-free baking since often you're using 4 or 5 different kinds of flour. It also makes adapting a recipe much, much easier. For these pancakes, I knew I needed a certain weight of whole grain flours and a certain weight of starches, but swapping different kinds was easy. I'm looking forward to being able to modify and invent my own recipes in the future using my trusty kitchen scale.


I'm also all about versatility when it comes to pancakes toppings. Classic real maple syrup is definitely a favourite, but honey is great too. I also love spreading peanut or other nut butters on the pancake and then adding something sweet (see above). Another habit is a dollop of plain yogurt and a drizzle of honey, sometimes with soft, sauteed apples if I'm really feeling fancy. And since these pancakes aren't very sweet, I'm sure they'd also be great with cheese and fruit.


Leftover pancakes are also great. It might sound a bit weird, but I like them eaten plain and cold straight from the refrigerator.

Gluten-free Whole-Grain Pancakes (adapted from this recipe)

You can play around with the flours in this recipe. Try using amaranth, sorghum, or quinoa in place of the millet. I probably wouldn’t use all quinoa flour because of its strong taste, but 1 oz. would be great. This batter is quite thin, but if you like thicker pancakes you can use an extra ounce millet flour and an extra ounce tapioca starch.

2 oz. millet flour
1.5 oz cornmeal
1 oz. flax meal
1 oz. tapioca starch
1 oz. sweet rice flour (sometimes called glutinous rice flour)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. xantham gum
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 to 1.5 cups milk – cow’s or soy works well
1/4 melted butter or oil.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Beat the wet ingredients until bubbly, about a minute. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir together, then whisk until smooth.

Heat a frying pan or a griddle to just over medium heat, and add a thin layer of oil.  Fry the pancakes until brown, flipping when bubbles appear on the tops.