Going Gluten Free.

Today was my last day of International Cuisine – can you believe it?  It is amazing how quickly each of our nine day classes just flies by – just as I’m getting into the groove class is over!  Nine days just doesn’t seem long enough to soak up all the food from around the world, but I guess when you pack the entire foundation of cooking into a one year program, you have to keep things moving along.

Speaking of moving along…  We started class with our final exam, which I am sure I got an A on – no sweat.  Next up we headed to the kitchen for our final stop on the International tour – ITALY!  Clearly we couldn’t leave a class focused on international food and not cook the most classic food of all.  All of our food was served family style in the dining room.  I was less than thrilled to hear that our group would be cooking Osso Buco, also known as braised veal shanks.  They were HUGE, so we seared them off in the gigantic tilt skillet. 

IMG_4023 (800x600)

Then we added our mirepoix vegetables and deglazed with a LOT of red wine!

IMG_4024 (800x600)

We covered it and let it simmer and braise for as long as possible.

IMG_4030 (800x600)

About 2/3 of the way through cooking, we pulled the shanks out and pulled the meat off of the bones.  It was so tender that it just fell right off!

IMG_4035 (800x600)

The final product was a big hit in the dining room.  I am told this was very good!  Since a lot of you have asked about how I deal with cooking the meat dishes as a vegetarian, I’ll use today’s dish as an example.  When we pulled the meat out of the sauce to do the final thickening and seasoning, I took a small taste on a spoon to make sure the salt amount was correct.  In my ideal world, veal shanks would not end up on plates, but since they do – I taste and season and move on. 

IMG_4040 (800x600)

The other project I worked on today was Pasta E Fagioli, or Italian pasta and white bean soup.  I started by browning some cubed pancetta…

IMG_4026 (800x600)

And then added a mixture of parsley, celery, carrots, and tomatoes.  Sautéed all of these together for an additional ten minutes. 

IMG_4028 (800x600)

Then I added the white beans and vegetable stock, and brought it up to simmer until service.

IMG_4031 (800x600)

The final product was colorful and flavorful, mmmmm.

IMG_4041 (800x600)

The rest of my group worked on a cheesy polenta dish, while I was shredding pecorino romano cheese to serve on top of my soup.  Somehow my cutting board ended up looking like I was hosting a cocktail party! 

IMG_4033 (800x600)

While my partner and I ate cheese in the corner, errrr finished our dishes, the rest of the class finished up their projects.  We had steamed mussels…

IMG_4036 (800x600)

Mixed mushroom risotto, sooooo creamy…

IMG_4037 (800x600)

My group’s super cheesy BLUE CHEESE polenta – yum!

IMG_4038 (800x600)

Braised vegetables – eggplant, fennel, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes…

IMG_4039 (800x600)

And fried gnocchi – these were AMAZING!  I only had a few, since I try to avoid fried food, but they were seriously like little pillows of dough.  Delicious!

IMG_4042 (800x600)

I was excited about the food and the last day of class, and got a little carried away when I dished up my plate.  I took about 2 bites of each thing and realized how heavy and rich it all was – waaay too much for lunch.  I tossed it in the garbage and decided to just be satisfied with a few bites, and eat a more suitable lunch at home.

IMG_4044 (800x600)

And speaking of LUNCH – today was a total fail in my latest endeavor.  I told you guys a few days ago that I was thinking about trying out a new diet for a bit.  Ever since I started running about three years back, I’ve dealt with some really annoying stomach troubles.  On top of that, I’ve gotten sick a lot this year and I think my immune system might be putting in some overtime.  Out of curiosity, just to see if it makes a difference, I’m going to go gluten free for a month!

Now let me just say, I really do not think I have celiac disease, and I don’t think I have IBS either.  But I do think it’s worth a shot to see if perhaps my body feels better without gluten.  I’m going to give it a try for one month and see if there are any noticeable differences.  I realized halfway through my lunch at school that my plate was probably packed with gluten foods – I hadn’t even thought about it!  So gluten free month will kick off tomorrow.

I did start paying attention to what foods contain gluten this weekend, and I discovered some positive and negative surprises.  The good – my favorite Trader Joe’s crackers are GF!  The bad – almost every veggie burger in my freezer contains wheat gluten :( 

Can you guys recommend some good gluten-free alternatives or brands?  I am pretty set on breakfast (oatmeal) and dinner (varies), but I am kind of stumped on LUNCH.  I am so used to eating sandwiches and veggie burgers!  Back tonight with a delicious gluten-free dinner…