Monday, March 31, 2008

A Mastercard ad in the making.....

Today's shopping list:

2 yams
2 baking potatoes
2 yellow onions
1 red onion
3 stalks of broccoli
1 head of cauliflower
1 zucchini
4 large plums
2 large nectarines
2 1/2 lbs. of bananas

For a grand total of.....$11.57. SERIOUSLY!

NAH and I have been griping about how high the grocery store bill has been lately, which is made even more difficult by the fact that we eat a lot of fruits and veggies. A few coworkers recommended a local farmstand and said I would be amazed at the prices. Amazed is an understatement.
Eating healthy is a wonderful thing. Supporting the local agriculture is also a wonderful thing. Eating healthy, supporting local farms, and saving money in the process? Priceless!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


So it's official. Every once in awhile I take a leap and test one of my allergies (the non-anaphylaxis ones) because these things can and do change over time. I am no longer allergic to pineapple. And it is quite yummy! Right in time for the upcoming trip to Hawaii!

But I want to talk about Top Chef. Actually talk about it, instead of doing a really long recap, because last night's episode had a moment that upset me greatly. At the very end, when the red team was called before the panel of judges and was utterly incensed at having lost, Andrew crossed a line. At least with me. He told head chef Tom Colicchio that the only way he was going home was if "security guards dragged him away." Ok, that kind of enthusiasm could be considered cute. Then he followed, rather emphatically, with the statement, "This is MY HOUSE." Noooo....

He's competing with other very gifted chefs in a competition that thousands of people want to enter and few are very carefully selected (don't know what the heck happened in Season 2, but I digress). You are in front of some of the experts in your field, and you're telling them you're in charge? Don't think so buddy. If I was Chef Tom, I would have stood up, walked around the table, and smacked the guy in the head (a la the V8 commercial). Seriously! No respect at all for seasoned professionals who are the stars of the culinary world? No respect for your competitors? I remember watching Hung (Season 3) become giddy with enthusiasm when he got to meet some of the guest judges, especially upon learning he'd be cooking with Rocco diSpirito in the finale. None of that gratitude was in play here.

Anyway, both teams were lousy. Nikki's (blue team) macaroni and cheese was a mistake from the get-go, and Zoi (red team) was very upset about a pasta salad she felt was beneath her, and then screwed up anyway. The only thing that really looked delectable was Dale's pork skewers with red curry BBQ sauce - and his red team lost (I liked their fare better, but only because it was simpler and I'm a sucker for dips). A Waldorf salad without mayo (?), and then without crunch (?)....ick. Erik's soggy corn dogs got him sent home, and thus ended an edition of what should have been called "adequate chef."

Show a little respect, man.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Top Chef Recap!

My two favorite things in one episode: cooking and animals! Thankfully, they were not cooking those animals.

Let's start with the Quickfire:
A bunch of shots of the chefs running around Chicago's Green City Market, generally displeased with the selections of meat, and getting grumpy remarks when attempting to rummage through the wares of the seller. The Quickfire challenge was simple: Cook a dish with no more than 5 ingredients (though salt, sugar, pepper, and oil were gimmes).
I really liked the look of Erik's dish, the lamb chop, baby carrots, and potatoes, but as I've said in earlier posts, the plainer my food arrives, the better. Wylie Dufresne, the molecular gastronomist and guest judge of this Quickfire, thought it too plain and told Erik it lacked cohesiveness. Grr.
Hyperactive Andrew, whom I can't decide if I'm taking a shine to because of my earlier days as a teacher, or because I'd pay money to see the man given Ritalin (or are these things one in the same?), is called out on his illegal use of balsamic vinegar. Which was ok with me because the whole plate was brown! Probably tasted out of this world, but not as visually appetizing as his end product usually is.
Mark, who we see running around the market unable to decide, purchasing items down to the last minute, and then LEAVING a key ingredient in his dish behind, pulls it out with his sirloin steak with turnips, mushrooms, peaches & butter. Looks like he didn't need the other vegetable after all. Wylie was suitably impressed, and Mark was granted the first immunity pass of the season.

The Elimination Challenge:
They drew knives and matched up in teams according to the animal on the knife: lion, vulture, penguin, bear, and gorilla (this is where the hearts of half the viewing audience stopped: were they going to cook these animals?).
Nope, they were charged with catering a cocktail party at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Each team had to create a menu of hors d'oeuvres that incorporated elements of their animals DIET (phew). Zoi immediately showed a great sense of humor listing what a vulture likes to eat. Just how many ways are there to cook a dead carcass?
The winning team of the night was penguin, with their black-and-white themed canapes, penguin decorations on the table, and Andrew's special edible yuzu glacier. Team vulture came in not too far behind with Mark's marinated anchovy on a quinoa croquette (high in protein and fiber, yum!)
Unfortunately, two of the other teams didn't fare as well: gorilla and bear were called to explain themselves.
When the camera man showed team bear's stuffed mushrooms (Nikki's) I turned to NAH and said, "those look like poop!" The thing was, that's exactly what they resembled. No thanks! Dale seemed to recognize this, and decided to add pecorino cheese to make the color more varied. The downside? After all that work they were too cold too serve at the party. Nikki thought she was remedying the situation by serving them to the chefs, but they appeared to be confused as to why they had to eat them if the other guest weren't. Seriously, they looked that awful. Blueberries and mushrooms is circumspect to me to begin with. Cold blueberries and mushrooms with pecorino cheese were even worse in the judges' opinions. Thankfully (and I'm saying this because I get the feeling Nikki could do well), team gorilla had two lousy dishes as compared to bear's one. Here's where things got tricky.
Gorilla had Valerie's black olive blini (which for the love of god, people is pronounced BLEE-NEE - no extra syllables!! A bellini is a drink!) with slightly-raw rutabagas on top, and Stephanie's pre-salted so it drew out all the moisture crab salad on celery chips that were too soggy to serve. In the judge's eyes Stephanie redeemed herself with the banana bread in caramel sauce (not to mention Antonia's vote that she'd rather keep Stephanie), and Valerie was sent packing.
Until next time!
~The Allergic Diner

Thursday, March 20, 2008

101. Who would've thought?

Yesterday I realized that I now have 100 posts. 100 posts! This post makes 101. I started this blog as an exercise of sorts. My job requires far more editing than actual writing and I did not want to get rusty. Plus, I savored the chance to tell some of these restaurants what I think of their treatment (anonymously, of course). I was also hoping maybe I'd make some friends in allergy-land, people with whom I could discuss allergy experiences , and we could learn and share from each other. This is getting a little too Barney&Friends for me, so I'll stop now.

I simply want to say THANK YOU!
When I started this blog I had no idea that I'd have the faithful readership or the overwhelming support/advice/interest that I have from all of you. It is very much appreciated. I always look forward to posting and to hearing from you, and to reading quite a few of your blogs. Here's to post 200!

I've mentioned in some of my past postings the dreaded tomato allergy, and the latex= death allergy problem that I have. I've discussed my distaste for oregano (a result of the allergic reaction it causes), and explained how I alter recipes. I have seen many allergists, all of whom confirmed both the tomato and the oregano allergies, but could never really give me a reason or a grouping for them. A good example of a grouping in this case would be my banana allergy, which directly ties to my latex allergy because of a similar protein. I need order and reason (to just about everything), so for me, this is important.

Today, on, the main page, there is an article "Unusual Food Allergies." I'd like to cut and paste a section of the article from Dr. Rob, one of the Health & Fitness expert bloggers.

I also need to mention another possibility, the latex-fruit syndrome. While triggering symptoms similar to those of the pollen-food syndrome, the latex-fruit syndrome is an allergic response to specific proteins present in latex. And since similar proteins are also contained in certain fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices, touching or eating them may cause a reaction. These foods or spices include but are not limited to: almonds, apples, bananas, kiwis, raw tomatoes or potatoes, as well as spices such as dill, oregano, ginger or sage.

I finally have my reason. They all tie together! Isn't that crafty? What a wonderful thing to discover for my 101st post. What follows is a link to the article (one day maybe one of my lovely readers will teach me how to link through a word, rather than post the entire link? I'm still a newbie out here). I will post my Top Chef thoughts later.

Thanks for reading!
Your Allergic Diner

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Well dear readers, I'm back. How was my vacation, you ask? It was lovely! 5 days in the Florida sunshine with no phone calls, email, or other bothersome intrusions. NAH's parents have a lovely home (at first glance I admit to thinking it was a show home - the one that other people tour before purchasing their own?). It's stunning. We had dinners on the screened-in lanai, NAH went swimming, and I got to do my favorite thing in the world: READ! We did a little shopping, went on a nature walk, but nothing too strenuous. It was VERY relaxing. But back to blog matter.

I also got to do my second favorite thing, eat lots of allergy-proof food without having to think about it. My non-allergic mom-in-law was kind enough to request a list of foods she could stock the house with ahead of time, and I had turkey, fruit, applesauce, cereal, and lactaid milk at my disposal. Yum!

We went out for dinner a few times, but I'd like to tell you about a very memorable meal we all shared at a restaurant in Fort Myers, Florida called The Lighthouse (pictured above). YUM!

The non-allergic in-laws were kind enough to assure me that I'd be able to request anything they made in my allergic diner style (re: PLAIN). I was astounded not only by the beauty of the restaurant (we got to sit overlooking the marina!), but by the menu itself. I could eat almost everything on it, and this was a very nice restaurant (doesn't often happen to me)! I was torn between the steak and the seafood, but decided when in Florida, and ordered a piece of grilled tuna, medium-rare with NO oils/spices/garnish, etc. I even requested that the waitress tell the chef to resist his urge to make it "look pretty." Unfortunately, when I dine out at a nice restaurant, the chef often feels the need to add something to my rather boring-looking plate, and by doing so, renders the dish inedible for me. I also requested a baked potato, plain, and a Caesar salad with the dressing on the side. I was delighted when the waitress asked me if I wanted anchovies. You bet I did!(NAH still thinks I say yes to bother him, he can't stand them)

NAH ordered his favorite, prime rib, with mashed potatoes and a cup of soup. NAmom-in-law had blackened salmon (that looked divine), and NAdad-in-law's NY strip steak came with an adorable topping of frizzled onions. But the best part?

My dish came out perfectly,and I could tell just by looking at it. No oil, no seasoning, no garnish, nothing. The sauces were in little metal containers so as not to contaminate my food, and I was able to eat a full meal for one of the few times I can remember. I was too full to even think about dessert (well, until we returned home!). It's unusual for me to feel comfortable enough, even with medicine to prevent stomach/allergy problems, to eat out at a nice restaurant. This was amazing.

My thanks to The Lighthouse for a truly memorable meal. My thanks to my non-allergic in-laws for a truly relaxing vacation!

Here's the link to The Lighthouse in Ft. Myers, Florida, should you ever make it down there....

Stay tuned tomorrow for a Top Chef recap.

~Allergic Diner

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I'll be back.....

And for those of you wondering when I'll be actually, well, writing reviews again of food that I'm eating , NAH and I are about to embark on a lovely vacation to Florida with the non-allergic inlaws. I'll have plenty of restaurant reviews when I return!
'til then,
your Allergic Diner

...And we're back

Well, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Top Chef Season 4 has started, and much like Season 3, it appears this one will be about the food and not the drama (I was NOT a Season 2 fan).
The competitors for each season seem to be increasingly well trained with more impressive resumes. A chef from Le Cirque and one from Buddakan? Not too shabby! But I made one interesting discovery last night that I'm wondering if any one else noticed. Did this years casting director go looking for chefs who looked like last year's chefs? Richard bears resemblance to Sandee Birdsong (it might just be the hair, but it's there, admit it!) Stephanie looks like Leah, and is Spike the new C.J.? It's not the looks, but maybe the hat...I'll get back to you on that one.

So let's dissect the quickfire:
Richard's Peach Talleggio Pizza with Sweet Tea Reduction looked absolutely delicious!
Dale's (another season, another Dale?) pizza with sriracha sauce looked beautiful. He pickled his own kohl rabi! (and I write this only because this morning my first order of business was to find out what the heck kohl rabi was (according to Wikipedia it is a low, stout cultivar of cabbage).
Spike's Greek-style pizza was my favorite because it was unique but still sounded delicious. I'm not quite sure how molasses figures into a pizza, but as Rocco di Spirito's blog says, pizza is just bread, there is no blanker slate!
Not sure what a couple of the other chefs were thinking (grapes & bacon, melon & prosciutto? I freely admit to not having an advanced palate, but ick!)
I think Nikki had a great idea for a white pizza (which I am admittedly quite partial to with a tomato allergy) but the crust was, well, a bit much....

On to elimination:
Both Nikki and Stephanie fared far better at the elimination challenge, with Stephanie winning overall with her recreation of duck a l'orange and duck spring rolls. They looked quite tasty! Nikki's rolled out her own pasta from scratch for her lasagna! Impressive!

My only opinion about the elimination is that I think souffle was a set-up. It is one of the hardest things to cook, and predictably, neither Eric's nacho fiesta souffle, nor Zoi's rice pudding souffle were the right take on the idea of light and fluffy. However, in the end, Nimma was sent packing due to an over salted shrimp scampi and a cauliflower "scramble (?)"....

All for now - we'll meet here again next Wednesday for another Top Chef, recap. Leave me your thoughts and opinions!
~Allergic Diner