Friday, August 24, 2012

Chicken Quinoa Cherry Cashew Salad Recipe Gluten-free

Cherry balsamic soaked
dried cherries adds a nice
flavor to this quinoa, cashew
gluten-free chicken salad
I have had a lot of people ask me for simple gluten-free recipes that can satisfy hungry friends and family who are both gluten-free and non-gluten-free eaters. It makes sense to make one meal instead of  two.  Well, this is one of my favorite simple, yet really elegant in its presentation and taste that guests will ask you for the recipe. As I have said in the past, going wheat, gluten-free does not mean having to sacrifice anything - you do need to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and perhaps try foods that are not currently staples in your home. Quinoa is a great example of a rewarding stretch. 

The key to this recipe is to cook the quinoa as directed either using the instructions below or following the package directions. When the quinoa is done the grain will be translucent and soft and you will be able to see the germ ring along the outside edge of the grain. Now that may sound intimidating but if you take the 15 minutes to try it - this will make sense when you look at the cooked quinoa.

Another tip is to let the chicken cool in its baking pan for a few minutes until you can touch it, and then cut it into bite-sized pieces in the pan and let it soak up some of its cooking juices which you have seasoned prior to cooking (the olive oil and salt and pepper). Once the chicken is cut up and has absorbed some of its own goodness, then mix the cut up chicken into the bowl with the quinoa.

Enjoy - from my table to yours....

Chicken Quinoa Cherry Cashew Salad

2 large chicken breasts
2 cups of quinoa (prepared according to directions below)
½ cup of dried cherries
½ cup of cashews
2 tbsp of Cherry Balsamic Vinegar
2 tbsp of olive oil
Salt and pepper

To prepare chicken breasts:

                Preheat oven to 375 degrees
                Place the uncooked chicken breasts on a baking pan
                Using 1 tbsp of olive oil lightly rub the chicken breasts
                Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the chicken breasts
                Place the baking pan with chicken breasts in the preheated oven and cook for 30 - 35 minutes
                                until done
                Let the chicken breasts cool in the baking pan and then cut into ¾ inch pieces

To prepare the quinoa:

                Place 1 cup of uncooked quinoa and 2 cups of water in a 1 ½ quart saucepan and bring to boil
                Reduce to simmer cover and cook until all of the water is absorbed (about 10-15 minutes)
To prepare the remainder of the salad:

                Lightly chop the dried cherries and soak in the cherry balsamic vinegar for 15 minutes while
                                preparing the other ingredients
                Lightly chop the cashews to get into bite-sized pieces

Assemble the salad:

                This salad can be assembled while the ingredients are warm, or fully cooled
                In a large mixing bowl put the cooked quinoa, chicken and olive oil lightly mix
                Add chopped cashews and cherries in their marinating juices
                Salt and pepper to taste

This salad can be served warm just after assembling, or make it ahead of time and serve the next day. Serve on a bed of greens with a few fresh tomatoes or pickled beets on the side for an added dab of color and enjoy. Makes 6-8 servings.

These advertisers offer quinoa products:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gluten-Free Monster Bar Recipe

Gluten-Free Monster Bar Recipe

Mama Caruso in 2009 on the shores
 of the Mississippi River
after bicycling across Iowa

For all of you #Gluten-free, #RAGBRAI riders out there - this is a marvelous energy food to help fuel you for RAGBRAI

This is a traditional mid-western home-style recipe, easy for taking to the neighbors, to a civic event, fundraiser...or to share with your house guests who have just ridden across your state. This recipe was made by one of our home-stays (thank you so much again Mark and Andrea Baum) during RAGBRAI and we were hungry! There are no photos of the Monster bars, because by the time I pulled in, they had been almost completely demolished - so that is the tribute to them...they should be called vanishing Monster Bars...enjoy!

1 stick oleo (margarine or butter)
1 cup of white sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup nuts - you choose...walnuts work nicely...
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
4 1/2 cups oats or oatmeal
1/2 cups M&Ms - adds a nice color...

Mix all ingredients and place in a large jelly roll pan.
Place in oven set at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes - do not over bake
Cool and cut

Thank you to Andrea Baum's Mom for this recipe. It does not have to be difficult to be wheat gluten-free.

Friday, August 17, 2012

To Be Or Not To Be…Gluten Free…

To Be Or Not To Be…Gluten Free…
Gluten-free walleye batter...yum
A call to action - I am going to begin today with a call to action, a disclaimer and then get to the good stuff. The call to action is this – if you like my blog, the stories, the recipes, the travel and food tips – then please pass them along to your friends and sign up to receive new releases on my blog by entering your e-mail address into the box on the left-hand side of this page under "follow by e-mail" – then you will receive each new post as it is fresh and available and not miss anything. The second call to action is to please check out my sponsors who support my blog. I have asked to have relevant and useful ads on my site and it would be great if you would visit them.
The disclaimer - Okay enough of the housekeeping – now the disclaimer. I am writing this food and travel blog from my own experiences, perspective and knowledge base which changes all the time. This is especially important as we venture into the gluten-free discussion. While a scientist by schooling and a social scientist by experience this discussion is based upon my own experiences and the guests that I have on the blog. Some of those guests may be from my family and friends and others I have just met, all of whom are experts about their own experiences. I have been surprised at the interest and the level of discussions that I end up involved with related to gluten-free eating. Now on to the good stuff…
The good stuff - To be or not to be gluten-free? I have a family that is motivated to live as fully and well as we possibly can – a no regrets philosophy permeates the entire fiber of our being. That means moving out of our comfort zones on a regular basis and

continually challenging ourselves to try to incorporate lifestyle choices to maximize our body, mind and soul. Meditation, reading, and yoga are some of the regular activities in our household as well as biking, jogging, walking and swimming (soon…more on the triathlon challenge later). Our family loves to play games, go boating and fishing and of course, travel and cook together (or at least eat together). Lest you stop reading because we sound like the Cleavers, let me assure you we are not without our challenges and weight is one of those challenges. It is a huge challenge and we are continually seeking alternative eating strategies to help control or at least get our weight to a point where we can more fully engage in our other activities. Now, some of us are more concerned than others because of the desire to eat all of the food that I love to cook and the on-going discussion about the weight of muscle mass that we accumulate when we bike and exercise as much as we do. But the reality is that most of the people in my family carry more weight than we would like and that we notice a lighter sense of being when we are eating healthily.

When we engage in a new “eating plan” or “change of eating lifestyle choice” we try to do it as an entire family, since it is easier to cook for the masses and have less “tempting” or “challenging” foods around in the house, plus there is a sense of camaraderie and team spirit and support that comes from working together. Sometimes the discussion about incorporating a different way of eating takes weeks and months before we land on a strategy for all of us to start together. Well, this lengthy processing did not take place this time; I was not going to incorporate gluten-free foods into my kitchen, lifestyle or life…period. No one in my family has celiac disease and I was not going to give up my pasta…I am Mama Caruso, pasta is my ultimate comfort food – my go to food and something that I just won’t give up, end of discussion…or not…

This entire discussion began in the late winter as we were putting together our training plan to ride our bikes 400 plus miles in a week across Iowa and my husband believed that if he was lighter that it would change his experience. I had just gotten back from a trip to Ghana and knew that long-distance travel is much easier without carrying around my own extra weight and so we decided to look at some food options that would not compromise our long-distance bike training and would maximize our lives. We looked at a number of options but the main criterion was that it needed to be something that was sustainable. We had been vegetarians for years when we lived in Boulder and were moving back in that direction when along came the book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis and all collaboration ceased – my husband was going to go wheat gluten-free and I was not. The irony of that statement as I sit here 6 months later on family vacation munching on home-made gluten-free shortcake that is absolutely delicious is not lost on me. And, the gluten-free batter for the walleye was significantly better than the Shore Lunch we used for the other half of the family.

Fresh walleye ready for the
grill - a great addition to a
gluten-free menu
We have traveled to northern Minnesota for a family vacation filled with fishing, boating, playing and eating, eating, eating. We have 3 cabins and each family grouping in a cabin is responsible for cooking one meal for everyone during the week. There are currently 4 of the 11 of us who are living the wheat gluten-free lifestyle and in the next post, I will share the menus we have been cooking and the strategies that have been employed to support a gluten-free family vacation. I can tell you that we have been able to incorporate gluten-free family fun without compromising anyone’s desires – in fact, it was at last night’s murder mystery dinner party that we had the gluten-free strawberry shortcake…which was enjoyed by all! Next week, I will share some of the interviews from the people who rode RAGBRAI as gluten-free riders as well as share some of our own experiences…and if you have one of your own gluten-free story you would like me to share please contact me at or tweet me at @mamacaruso1 I look forward to hearing from you...from my table to yours.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Self-doubt, no regrets, and living outside the comfort zone.

Self-doubt, no regrets, and living outside the comfort zone.
What might any of this have to do with food and travel you might ask? Well while I was traveling across Iowa on my bicycle I had a great deal of time to consider all of these topics and their commonality with travel.

I have consciously strived to lead a “no-regrets” life since my near death experience seventeen years ago, then shortly after that experience, my father-in-law died and as we were processing our loss with his passing I realized that I had long been living a no-regrets life. I was so thankful that I had been living a no-regrets life because I had some super incredible experiences with both of my husband’s parents and my grief was in what we would miss doing together, not in what I wished we would have done. The weeks after my father-in-laws death was the first time I was able to appreciate and embrace what I now refer to as my conscious decision to live a no-regrets life. Outwardly, that takes the form of traveling to some very unlikely destinations under unusual circumstances – which makes for some really great stories;  like being some of the very few United States citizens in Togo when our country went to war; or, being in the country of Grenada during a coup – but I will tell those stories another time. Outwardly, no-regrets living is easy to spot and often looks effortless; inwardly, is another story.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Strength, perseverance and a little bit of crazy…riding and eating my way across Iowa on RAGBRAI

Strength, perseverance and a little bit of crazy…riding and eating my way across Iowa

Riding my bike over 400 miles across Iowa on RAGBRAI takes 6 months to plan, 7 days to complete and apparently 10 days from which to recover! This week I got back on my bike and my intense hunger abated. I finally caught up on the thousands and thousands of calories I got behind on during the ride.

109 degrees in the shade at 12:30
Reflections from the road…this year was the 40th anniversary of RAGBRAI… 10,000 registered riders, 1,500 support vehicles with support crews and an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 non-registered riders (bandits) began in Sioux Center, Iowa – dipping the wheels of our tires in water brought in from the Missouri River (Sioux Center is several miles away from the traditional staring line of RAGBRAI – the Missouri River) finishing 7 days and well over 400 miles in Clinton, Iowa on the Mississippi River. Our family team of 6 completed the ride with only a few bumps – a broken spoke, a dead battery in one of the support vehicles and a few aches and pains – nothing that the feeling of accomplishment at finishing couldn’t overcome. Despite the intense heat – temperatures on the 3rd and 4th day ranged between 104 – 108 and a serious drought in Iowa, the communities and people along the route opened their doors and hearts to us offering their homes, their yards, shade, and water troughs. ..the generosity of the  people of Iowa was humbling.

Pie, Pie and More Pie…One of the things that I love about riding over 400 miles in a week is that I get to eat and sample large varieties and quantities of food to fuel my body – in an average day on RAGBRAI I will burn between 4,000 – 8,000 calories and they all need to be replaced immediately so that I can ride the next day. This year we had the added challenge of fueling our bodies with gluten-free foods and we were sad about missing out on the famous pies that greet RAGBRAI riders across Iowa.  We had a pleasant surprise when we stopped by the Community of Lohrville’s tent at 8:45 one morning after riding for 3 hours to find