Thursday, September 25, 2008

"You know you’re officially a foodie, right?"

Ben said that to me a couple of weeks ago when I excitedly came home with 4 soufflé dishes and 2 square cake pans from sur la table, bursting with new cooking and baking ideas. I didn’t protest. I have not only accepted my lot, but embraced it.

Eating gluten-free (along with all of my other, hopefully temporary, diet restrictions) initially forced me to scour the internet for ideas and recipes, trying to find ways to eat healthy as well as keep things interesting. Now, I do it for fun. I have learned so much about chemical reactions in baking as well as what flavors blend well, and I’ve experimented with ingredients I had never heard of before. It seems the more I cook, the more ideas I come up with and the more I want to cook. Sometimes I want to cook for cooking sake, to see how delicious I can make something, or to try a new recipe I found.

I somewhat believe that all this experimenting is partly a coping mechanism, partly a survival necessity. I have always thought that experimenting and challenging yourself is not only mentally healthy, but essential. It is what keeps us going; it helps to give meaning to our lives and provides us with a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy. Embracing my chronic condition as essentially a challenge has really enabled me to take charge of it and I feel, as a result, I am much healthier, both mentally and physically. Oh yeah, and it’s a lot of FUN too!

While not exactly ‘challenging,’ my latest idea extends my current groove in Midwestern-style cooking. Why not make individual-sized casseroles? Each person can tailor the dish to their liking, similar to making individual pizzas. Also, there’s something comforting about sitting down with a warm bowl of goodness…how much better would it be if it was your OWN little casserole in a still-hot-from-the-oven dish??

The first dish I tried in my little soufflé dishes was a rice gratin, with two of the servings mine and two of the servings Ben’s. He likes his food much spicier than mine and he had purchased two small jalapeño peppers at the grocery store a couple of days earlier. I diced up one of the peppers into small pieces and divided it into his two servings (two of the soufflé dishes). They were delicious!

Since then, I did a baked seashell pasta casserole, using the “creamy” pasta sauce I had created earlier this month. And yesterday, I put together a rice gratin, using up the last of the chicken leftover from our crockpot chicken this past weekend. I am really digging the versatility of these right now, and I have a feeling I will be getting many miles out of these soufflé dishes as fall moves into winter.

In this dish, I use nutmeg, which I have read can produce hallucinations and can be lethal at high doses. However, it is also used to treat flatulence, nausea, and vomiting and has been believed to be an aphrodisiac! In any case, it really adds a nice, unique flavor to this dish.

Chicken Rice Gratin:

1 cup brown rice

2 ½ cups water

½ cup hazelnuts

1 cup cubed, cooked chicken breast

5 or 6 baby zucchini, sliced into discs

2 cups fresh spinach, coarsely chopped/torn

Half a medium red onion, diced

2 eggs

1 clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon oregano

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the brown rice and stir, reducing heat to low and simmering for about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the onion, zucchini, chicken, spinach, garlic, nutmeg, sea salt, and oregano. Place the hazelnuts in a sturdy, small bag and crush slightly (I used the bottom of a heavy coffee mug). Toast the hazelnuts in a fry pan over med-high heat, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes or until they begin to brown. Place the hazelnuts in a small bowl to cool.

Add the rice and hazelnuts into the large bowl and mix well. Whisk the two eggs in a small bowl and add to the rice mixture, mixing until everything is well-coated.

Spoon the mixture into four 16 oz soufflé dishes or a large casserole dish.

Cook uncovered at 400F for about 30 minutes.

Enjoy! Feeds 4.

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