Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hilah's Fish Tacos

My new favorite cooking site is Hilah Cooking. Hilah Johnson is a musician, comedian, actress living in Austin, Texas, and just a few months ago she decided to start up an internet-based cooking show. The videos are hysterically funny, the recipes are easy and so far all the ones I've tried have turned out great.

While at the grocery store today, we bought a big bag of frozen tilapia filets (we've been trying to eat more fish) and Garen and I looked at each other and said, "Hilah's Fish Tacos!" We had watched that episode the other night together and laughed ourselves silly, but more importantly they looked scrumptious. So then we had to buy all the stuff for the "toppins'", which is basically gussied up coleslaw, along with some other toppings like tomato and avocado. I love making all the people in the Fred Meyer's self-service checkout line glare in ire when we have lots of produce to manually punch in to the kiosk!

The preparation was pretty straightforward and would have been easier if the sink hadn't had dirty dishes in it or the dishwasher had been emptied or the cast iron skillet had been cleaned, but once I got all the counters cleared off and things rolling, it went pretty quickly.

Here's the link to the video and recipe:

And seriously O. M. G. The video made these look good enough to try, but they REALLY exceeded my expectations and the bonus awesome thing (from my point of view at least) is that it's super easy to adapt for those of us with weird food issues like allergies or intolerances.

Changes I made:
  1. I didn't have anise seed, so I left that out and added a little authentic Hungarian paprika instead (my dad picked up a huge 8 oz bag of REAL paprika during his last trip to Hungary and it is AWESOME).
  2. I can't have mayo, so I split the toppin' into two bowls, one with mayo (for the man & boy) and one with an egg and dairy-free creamy poppyseed dressing for myself. I love this dressing so much:
  3. I also left out the jalapeƱo, cause I DON'T like it spicy (neither does the 9 year old, who ate seconds) and I used sweet onion.
  4. We sliced up avocado and tomatoes, added a bit of salsa and served it up with corn on the cob.
For the first time ever I used Hilah's method of heating up corn tortillas by placing them directly on the cooking element on the stove-top; Garen said, while we were watching the video, that his mom used to do the exact same thing and it looked like it worked, so I figured why not! It worked like a charm with the heat at medium, though I used tongs to turn them, since I am so prone to burning myself.

I really can't think of any other changes I would make to this recipe and we will definitely be making this again and frequently.

Happy Eating!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Daiya Vegan Cheese Review

Last month I started hearing of this new cheese-substitute that was not only vegan, but also free of casein (which is the protein in dairy that I cannot digest) AND soy AND all the other primary food allergens. I did some quick research and discovered that yes, it did exist and the reviews were blogger claimed that it would turn the vegan community on its collective head! Well, I'm not vegan, but when it comes to everything but meat, I might as well be, so I got excited. REALLY excited. Then I learned there was a vegan convenience store here in Portland (unsurprising) who had gotten their first shipment in of Daiya Vegan Cheese. Garen swung by while shopping for bike parts and because he loves me a lot, bought the last bag of mozzarella style shreds. Thankfully he didn't have to hurt any vegans in the process. When he brought it home, I immediately thought...PIZZA!

A few days passed and I hadn't yet felt like making pizza, but I found the Daiya Cheddar Shreds at Whole Foods when I stopped in for my bi-monthly Earth Balance purchase. They also had some of the new So Delicious Coconut yogurt in flavors that Fred Meyer's didn't carry and of course I had to grab some Original Tings on my way out; I honestly only meant to get one thing, but it's kind of nice to have so many more options now.

The cheddar shreds didn't last long, in fact the next night for dinner I made myself the BEST mac 'n cheese I've had in a long long time. What made it even better was that I didn't have to worry about getting sick from eating it! Aside from the psychological factor, the Daiya cheddar really did come amazingly close to mimicking real cheese: it melted beautifully without having to be microwaved, it was both gooey and stringy, it tasted fabulous (not like a sharp cheddar, but more of a mix between cheddar, colby and American), it reheated great, and it went on my favorite products list after just one use. When I showed the leftover mac 'n cheese to Garen, he agreed that it looked just like real mac 'n cheese.

While very sad to see the last of the mac 'n cheese, I consoled myself with the fact that I still had the mozzarella shreds to try. This weekend we had both kids, so it seemed to be a good opportunity to try making a pizza with the Daiya cheese while simultaneously resisting the siren call of regular pizza (a hitherto impossible feat).

After preparing the crust, and adding sauce, I sprinkled a light layer of cheese that did end up melting with absolute perfection. The toppings went on next and since the pizza was a Chicago-style, they were super chunky and thick, plus the entire thing needed to bake for 20 minutes. If I had read the website more carefully, I would have seen that it would have been best to add the top layer of cheese half-way through cooking to avoid over-browning. Instead, I layered on the cheese very thickly and baked the pizza for the full 20 minutes, which resulted in a rather un-cheese like top crust. Fortunately, it still tasted great and since I'd layered it on so thick, most of it was just as melty and stringy as the bottom layer. Even Garen and the kids thought it was good! This may make it possible for us to completely stop buying regular pizza. Amazing.

While I'm not sure about Daiya turning the vegan community on its head, I do know that it has added some joy back into my life with its dairy-free deliciousness. I am absolutely certain that this product will continue to grow in popularity and if I had some extra cash, I'd be buying their stock! I give it five stars and it's going on my list of regular Whole Foods purchases. Hopefully they come out with slices and other flavors SOON!

Product Details

Item Name: Daiya Cheddar-Style and Mozzarella-Style Shreds
Company Name: Daiya Foods Inc.
Retail Price: approx $5.50 per 8 oz bag
Pros: taste, texture, overall cheesiness
Cons: unit cost, flavor options

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ingredient Reading FAILURE

One would think after fourteen months of learning to scrutinize every single ingredients list on every single food I put in my mouth, I'd be an expert by now. Unfortunately, even expert ingredient list readers can be tripped up.

Sometimes it's due to things outside of our control, like sudden unannounced product changes. Usually, however, it's our own fault. Life decides to speed up, we get in a hurry, we reach out and grab something we think is something else, then we compound the problem by not catching the mistake until after the package is sitting empty in the trash due to a sudden snack attack.

This tendency to go into autopilot at the grocery store has brought me to my metaphorical knees more than once and it's very much the one thing that continues to plague me, even after all the cravings have passed and that switch in my head has reset so that the foods that really ARE bad for me smell and taste bad.

This time around it was a bag of crisps. We were at the grocery store a couple of weekends ago and I passed by the Riceworks display, remembered I was out and I snagged two bags. What I thought I grabbed were the Sea Salt and Salsa Fresca flavors, as those are the two I can eat (no soy or dairy, all are gluten-free). After sitting down and eating the entire bag Wednesday night, then waking up Thursday and feeling progressively horrible, I stopped and thought about what all I had eaten the day before and spotted the bag in the trash, realizing suddenly that instead of Salsa Fresca, I had bought the Sweet Chili flavor, which is chock full of soy.

The lesson I took from this was to SLOW DOWN and LOOK. The red and green packages obviously invoke traffic signals and they're a good analogy for food intolerances and allergies. That red bag should have screamed STOP to me, but I was in such a hurry that it didn't register...and once it had made it home into the pantry, it was "safe" and my brain completely set it aside for any further consideration. Assuming everything I've bought is safe when I know that I've been getting sloppy is dangerous. Days are lost feeling extremely ill, which then makes everyone around me suffer. If I had a job, that would be lost wages if I had to call in sick.

The hidden blessing to having food intolerances instead of true food allergies is that such a mistake doesn't land me in the hospital with anaphylaxis. Usually it isn't until the next day when every thing's happily landed in my intestinal tract that things start to go very very wrong. While I wouldn't wish this ailment on anyone, I do have to be grateful for that (at least for now).